The Ocean Is Not Getting Acidified

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

There’s an interesting study out on the natural pH changes in the ocean. I discussed some of these pH changes a year ago in my post “The Electric Oceanic Acid Test“. Before getting to the new study, let me say a couple of things about pH.

The pH scale measures from zero to fourteen. Seven is neutral, because it is the pH of pure water. Below seven is acidic. Above seven is basic. This is somewhat inaccurately but commonly called “alkaline”. Milk is slightly acidic. Baking soda is slightly basic (alkaline).

Figure 1. pH scale, along with some examples.

The first thing of note regarding pH is that alkalinity is harder on living things than is acidity. Both are corrosive of living tissue, but alkalinity has a stronger effect. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. For example, almost all of our foods are acidic. We eat things with a pH of 2, five units below the neutral reading of 7 … but nothing with a corresponding pH of 12, five units above neutral. The most alkaline foods are eggs (pH up to 8) and dates and crackers (pH up to 8.5). Heck, our stomach acid has a pH of 1.5 to 3.0, and our bodies don’t mind that at all … but don’t try to drink Drano, the lye will destroy your stomach.

That’s why when you want to get rid of an inconvenient body, you put lye on it, not acid. It’s also why ocean fish often have a thick mucus layer over their skin, inter alia to protect them from the alkalinity. Acidity is no problem for life compared to alkalinity.

Next, a question of terminology. When a base is combined with an acid, for example putting baking soda on spilled car battery acid, that is called “neutralizing” the acid. This is because it is moving towards neutral. Yes, it increases the pH, but despite that, it is called “neutralizing”, not “alkalizing”.

This same terminology is used when measuring pH. In a process called “titration”, you measure how much acid it takes to neutralize an unknown basic solution. If you add too much acid, the pH drops below 7.0 and the mixture becomes acidic. Add too little acid, and the mixture remains basic. Your goal in titration is to add just enough acid to neutralize the basic solution. Then you can tell how alkaline it was, by the amount of acid that it took to neutralize the basic solution.

Similarly, when rainwater (slightly acidic) falls on the ocean (slightly basic), it has a neutralizing effect on the slightly alkaline ocean. Rainwater slightly decreases the pH of the ocean. Despite that, we don’t normally say that rainwater is “acidifying” the ocean. Instead, because it is moving the ocean towards neutral, we say it is neutralizing the ocean.

The problem with using the term “acidify” for what rainwater does to the ocean is that people misunderstand what is happening. Sure, a hard-core scientist hearing “acidify” might think “decreasing pH”. But most people think “Ooooh, acid, bad, burns the skin.” It leads people to say things like the following gem that I came across yesterday:

Rapid increases in CO2 (such as today) overload the system, causing surface waters to become corrosive.

In reality, it’s quite the opposite. The increase in CO2 is making the ocean, not more corrosive, but more neutral. Since both alkalinity and acidity corrode things, the truth is that rainwater (or more CO2) will make the ocean slightly less corrosive, by marginally neutralizing its slight alkalinity. That is the problem with the term “acidify”, and it is why I use and insist on the more accurate term “neutralize”. Using “acidify”, is both alarmist and incorrect. The ocean is not getting acidified by additional CO2. It is getting neutralized by additional CO2.

With that as prologue, let me go on to discuss the paper on oceanic pH.

The paper is called “High-Frequency Dynamics of Ocean pH: A Multi-Ecosystem Comparison” (hereinafter pH2011). As the name suggests, they took a look at the actual variations of pH in a host of different parts of the ocean. They show 30-day “snapshots” of a variety of ecosystems. The authors comment:

These biome-specific pH signatures disclose current levels of exposure to both high and low dissolved CO2, often demonstrating that resident organisms are already experiencing pH regimes that are not predicted until 2100.

First, they show the 30-day snapshot of both the open ocean and a deepwater open ocean reef:

Figure 2. Continuous 30-day pH measurements of open ocean and deepwater reef. Bottom axis shows days. Vertical bar shows the amount of the possible pH change by 2100, as estimated in the pH2011 study.

I note that even in the open ocean, the pH is not constant, but varies by a bit over the thirty days. These changes are quite short, and are likely related to rainfall events during the month. As mentioned above, these slightly (and temporarily) neutralize the ocean surface, and over time mix in to the lower waters. Over Kingman reef, there are longer lasting small swings.

Compare the two regions shown in Fig. 1 to some other coral reef “snapshots” of thirty days worth of continuous pH measurements.

Figure 3. Thirty day “snapshots” of the variation in pH at two tropical coral reefs. Bottom axis shows days.

There are a couple of things of note in Figure 3. First, day-to-night variations in pH are from the CO2 that is produced by the reef life as a whole. Also, day-to-night swings on the Palmyra reef terrace are about a quarter of a pH unit … which is about 60% more than the projected change from CO2 by the year 2100.

Moving on, we have the situation in a couple of upwelling areas off of the California coast:

Figure 4. Thirty day pH records of areas of oceanic upwelling. This upwelling occurs, among other places, along the western shores of the continents.

Here we see even greater swings of pH, much larger than the possible predicted change from CO2. Remember that this is only over the period of a month, so there will likely be an annual component to the variation as well.

Figure 5 shows what is going on in kelp forests.

Figure 5. pH records in kelp forests

Again we see a variety of swings of pH, both long- and short-term. Inshore, we find even larger swings, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Two pH records from a near-shore and an estuarine oceanic environment.

Again we see large pH changes in a very short period of time, both in the estuary and the near-shore area.

My conclusions from all of this?

First, there are a number of places in the ocean where the pH swings are both rapid and large. The life in those parts of the ocean doesn’t seem to be bothered by either the size or the speed these swings.

Second, the size of the possible pH change by 2100 is not large compared to the natural swings.

Third, due to a host of buffering mechanisms in the ocean, the possible pH change by 2100 may be smaller, but is unlikely to be larger, than the forecast estimate shown above.

Fourth, I would be very surprised if we’re still burning much fossil fuel ninety years from now. Possible, but doubtful in my book. So from this effect as well, the change in oceanic pH may well be less than shown above.

Fifth, as the authors commented, some parts of the ocean are already experiencing conditions that were not forecast to arrive until 2100 … and are doing so with no ill effects.

As a result, I’m not particularly concerned about a small change in oceanic pH from the change in atmospheric CO2. The ocean will adapt, some creatures’ ranges will change a bit, some species will be slightly advantaged and others slightly disadvantaged. But CO2 has been high before this. Overall, making the ocean slightly more neutral will likely be beneficial to life, which doesn’t like alkalinity but doesn’t mind acidity at all.

Finally, let me say that I love scientific studies like this, that actually use real observations rather than depending on theory and models. For some time now I’ve been pointing out that oceanic pH is not constant … but until this study I didn’t realize how variable it actually is. It is a measure of the “ivory tower” nature of much of climate science that the hysteria about so-called “acidification” has been going on for so long without an actual look at the actual ocean to see what difference a small change towards neutrality might actually make.

My best regards to everyone,

w.

NOTE: For those hard-core scientists that still want to call adding a small amount of acid to a basic solution “acidifying” the basic solution, and who claim that is the only correct “scientific terminology”, I recommend that you look at and adopt the scientific terminology from titration. That’s the terminology used when actually measuring pH in the lab. In that terminology, when you move towards neutral (pH 7), it’s called “neutralization”.

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168 Responses to The Ocean Is Not Getting Acidified

  1. Katherine says:

    Another welcome dose of common sense. Thanks, Willis!

  2. Kev-in-UK says:

    As someone who does quite a a bit of ion exchange and titration, I would agree with Willis’ description. The problem is with terminology, and of course, like AGW or CAGW, it’s all in the implied ‘problem’ – hence nuetralisation is never going to scare folk as much as acidification!
    Technically, one could say increased CO2 is potentially acidifying the ocean by making it less alkaline, but it is merely a relative term in any case. I haven’t read anything about the acidification of oceans caused by natural decomposing organic matter, or by submarine volcanic eruptions/vents – even though such things do cause significant acidifying production.
    Personally, I feel there should be far more concern about waste dumping, etc – than CO2 acidification! The size of the ocean buffers, and of course the carbonate deposits that support this buffering is vast. Measuring local variations gives an indication of just how variable the pH can be through a short timescale and as can be seen, these are having little effect.
    Just one other minor point – which again depends on ones term of reference..and that is that the diurnal variation on the reefs can be clearly argued to be a result of the corals rather than a result of the ocean. In other words, the corals, as they photosynthesize through the day are affecting their own environment rather than the ocean ‘swamping’ them with acid at night!

  3. James of the West says:

    Organisms have evolved to adapt to their environment. Acidity IS a problem for life that has evolved in an alkaline environment. Alkalinity of the ocean is only a problem for those organisms that have adapted to other environments. To suggest that acidity is more conducive to life than alkalinity is a bit silly. Lots of animals live in the alkaline ocean and are specifically evolved to do so. This is why all of the ocean animals dont swim into neutral river systems – because they are suited to the alkaline ocean not the neutral river.

  4. Larry in Texas says:

    Very well, done, Willis. It’s been a long time since I did some titration in my high school chemistry class and it is good to be reminded of the procedure and the results. Yes, I think “neutralization” is the right word for it.

    By the way, I would NOT be surprised if we are still burning fossil fuels 90 – 100 years from now. They are still the cheapest, densest sources of energy for the planet. If we still have enough of them, we will be using fossil fuels.

  5. Juraj V. says:

    This “pH will change by 0.1 and fish die” is the same BS as “warming by 1C during the 100 years is unprecedented and evil”. Yawn. Every day, it is warming by some 10°C during few hours.

  6. Larry Fields says:

    Hi Willis,
    I wanted to let you know that I mentioned your recent scientific publication in an article of mine at hubpages.com. Sorry, I could not think of a reasonable way to work in an AGW angle.
    http://tinyurl.com/84od64d

    Anyway, it’s called Sizing Up Extraterrestrial Biohazards. It probably does not measure up to the standards of WUWT. We only do serious science here. :-)

    Happy New Year!

  7. ferd berple says:

    “Rapid increases in CO2 (such as today) overload the system, causing surface waters to become corrosive.”

    Willis, technically this is true. CO2 in water (even salt water) acts as a catalyst to speed the oxidation of iron and steel. In moist environments steel rusts much quicker when there is high levels of CO2 from cities and industries for example, than in rural areas.

  8. Dear Willis,

    An excellent piece of inteliigent common sense, of which I sincerely hope it doesn’t fade away.

    Happy New Year!

  9. crosspatch says:

    The oceans had MUCH more dissolved CO2 over the majority of the history of Earth than they do now. Earth’s atmosphere had about 3500ppm of CO2 up until only about 55 million years ago. That dropped to about 650ppm in less than 1 million years due to a single species of plant.

    Our planet and the species alive today are actually pretty CO2-stressed. Most are living toward the bottom edge of the CO2 range required for them to thrive even with the additional of human produced CO2 emissions.

    If you consider that 96% of the species that have ever lived on planet Earth are extinct and that for less than 2% of the planet’s age we have had CO2 levels at less than 1000 ppm, well, maybe CO2 is a contributing factor to the deaths of a lot of these species including any climate change that might have happened from a catastrophic (to the species then living) drop in CO2 to about 1/5 of its previous level in only 1 million years.

  10. brennan says:

    Excellent post and analysis Willis. Cheers

  11. crosspatch says:

    Oh, and the plant was Azolla. Look up The Azolla Event.

  12. Jeff says:

    James of the West,
    Thanks for making me chuckle, you’re priceless!

  13. ferd berple says:

    James of the West says:
    December 28, 2011 at 12:08 am
    Organisms have evolved to adapt to their environment. Acidity IS a problem for life that has evolved in an alkaline environment.

    True, but current oceans are much more caustic that oceans for almost all of the past 100 million years. Only the past couple of million years have the oceans been as caustic as they are at present.

    So, if we are making the oceans more acidic, then we are simply returning them to the state most organism have evolved in.

    The simplest test of this is blood pH. Blood is much more acidic than current oceans, and is comparable to the acidity of oceans when our ancestors moved from the oceans to the land.

    Human beings cannot survive with a blood pH as caustic as current ocean levels. Blood pH is regulated to stay within the narrow range of 7.35 to 7.45, while ocean pH is greater than 8.

  14. Rhoda Ramirez says:

    Hi Willis: Thank you for that clear explaination – it’s one of the best non-technical overviews I’ve seen.

  15. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Rhoda Ramirez says:
    December 28, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Hi Willis: Thank you for that clear explaination – it’s one of the best non-technical overviews I’ve seen.

    Thank you, Rhoda. My goal is to make things understandable. I’m helped greatly when I’m discussing real science about the real world.

    All the best,

    w.

  16. JJ says:

    Willis, you often put up good posts, but this one is bullshit.

    Your “prologue” is an example of juvenile reasoning, and completely wrong.

    “The first thing of note regarding pH is that alkalinity is harder on living things than is acidity.”

    Nonsense. Both alkalinity and acididity can be equally as hard on living things. Living things have an optimum pH that they can operate with for various functions, and those pH optimums differ from function to function and from species to species. It is deviation from that optimum that is hard on living things, and that optimum is often on the basic side of the pH scale.

    “Both are corrosive of living tissue, but alkalinity has a stronger effect. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true.”

    No, it is not. Trust your intuition on this one.

    “For example, almost all of our foods are acidic. We eat things with a pH of 2, five units below the neutral reading of 7 … but nothing with a corresponding pH of 12, five units above neutral. The most alkaline foods are eggs (pH up to 8) and dates and crackers (pH up to 8.5). Heck, our stomach acid has a pH of 1.5 to 3.0, and our bodies don’t mind that at all … .”

    Absolutely not true. Our bodies mind acidity very much. Our stomachs do not, because (duh) our stomachs use acid to digest our food, and are protected from that acidity in order to function. But any idiot who suffers from acid reflux disease understands quite well that the rest of our body minds that acid very much. Stomach acid outside of the stomach, even in the adjacent esophagus, causes all manner of pain and damage to the body – from heartburn to bleeding ulcers to terminal cancer. Damage from stomach acid can also happen in the small intestine, which produces copius amounts of an alkaline (bicarbonate) to protect itself and the rest of the bowel from that acidity. Acid damage can even happen inside the stomach, when the special acid resistant stomach lining becomes damaged.

    “… but don’t try to drink Drano, the lye will destroy your stomach.”

    If acid from the stomach gets up to your mouth, tooth loss is often the result – an accelerated version of the tooth damage that your supposedly benign acidic foods also cause. On the other hand, it is recommended to brush your teeth with baking soda (pH 9) as this is beneficial.

    “It’s also why ocean fish often have a thick mucus layer over their skin, inter alia to protect them from the alkalinity. Acidity is no problem for life compared to alkalinity.”

    Not true. Species adapted to alkalinity, such as the fish you describe, often fare very poorly under neutral to acidic conditions, precisely because they are adapted to alkalinity and not adapted to acidic conditions.

    Everyone from gardeners to aquarium aficianados understands that different species require different pH regimes (soil or water), and that species adapted to alkaline conditions are often intolerant of neutral to acidic conditions -similar to how a human stomach adapted to tolerate acid does not handle strongly basic inputs.

    What ever point you may have been trying to make about the overstatement of the danger of “ocean acidification” is neutralized by your addition of an equal overstatement at the other end of the scale.

  17. John Marshall says:

    According to my text books on oceanography (2009) the ocean pH varies from 7.8 to 8.4 naturally in surface waters.

    No mention of the bicarbonate feedback mechanism Willis which helps to raise pH in the ionic solute that is the oceans.

  18. Orkneygal says:

    Mr Willis-Thank you for your lovely essay.
    Are you married?

  19. Roger Knights says:

    Willis: “Sure, a hard-core scientist hearing “acidify” might think “decreasing pH”. But most people think “Ooooh, acid, bad, burns the skin.””

    Here’s a nice tight nutshell to sum this up: The denotation of “acidification” is correct, but its connotation is misleading–so the term should be avoided in discourse with the public.

  20. Luke Warneminde says:

    “Acidity is no problem for life compared to alkalinity.”
    I don’t think this is a particularly strong argument to make. Our stomach has a continuously generating layer of mucus, protecting it from the acid inside – without that, the rest of our bodies would definitely have a problem. Heck, extremophile microbes can survive in pH up 12.8 (http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=12969)
    In any case, I think this is more a distraction from Willis’ main argument about the scale of changes already occurring compared to the CO2 doom forecasts.

  21. Don K says:

    In general, a good article. Having back at the dawn of time earned a degree in Chemistry from an otherwise reputable college, I’m fine with the term “acidification” because “neutralization” only works if the pH of the medium is above 7. But no matter.

    The specific issue raised by acidification alarmists is the affect of lower pH on marine creatures that have shells/skeletons made from Calcium Carbonate. And they do seem to have a point. Excess alkalinity may be tough on the critters themselves, but it won’t harm the shells. Excess acidity on the other hand makes it harder to form shells/skeletons and tends to dissolve existing shells. That’s oversimplified to begin with and is exacerbated when the acidifying (neutralizing) agent is CO2 which not only acidifies but supplies Carbonate and Bicarbonate Ions. The chemistry of Calcium Carbonate in sea water looks to be exceedingly complex. The “system” consists of solid Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Ions, Magnesium Ions, Carbonate ions. Bicarbonate Ions, Hydrogen Ions, and Hydroxyl (OH-) ions. It is very difficult to analyze. And it is temperature sensitive.

    Bottom Line. The alarmists might have a point although I personally am skeptical. Although I’m skeptical about the accuracy of paleo CO2 proxies, I think it likely that the ancestors of modern marine forms probably survived significantly higher CO2 levels and lower pHs than current ocean levels. My guess is that most marine animals will handle any likely level of anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 with little or no difficulty.

  22. richard verney says:

    Larry in Texas says:
    December 28, 2011 at 12:11 am
    ////////////////////////////////////////////////////
    It would not surprise me that in 20 years time, it is accepted that this CO2 concern was all bogus and that there is no problem in burning fossil fuels that emit CO2 such that we will go back to coal (using clean air technology) for bulk energy production. The simplicity, reliability and costs effectiveness of this form of energy production will be attractive and it does not carry the concerns that attach (rightly or wrongly) to nuclear.

    Coal is in plentiful supply and China is being forward thinking in its continued use of coal fired generators. As I say, it would not surprise me if in 20 years time the West follows China’s lead in this. Pity all the wasted expense and lost oportunity in the meantime, but hey that polotics for you. When was the last time politicians changed something for the better?

  23. Matt says:

    duh, no. Fish do not have mucus to protect them from alkalines over acid because alkalines are more corrosive to them – it just so happens that if your entire habitat (the sea) is alkaline, then that is what you protect against, naturally, not acid, which isn’t even present in an all alkaline environment.

  24. richard verney says:

    The terminology in this ‘scare’ has always irked me. Only a non scientist would refer to acidification of the oceans. In other threads, I have commented that the expressions used show a distinct lack of scientific understanding and are deliberately deployed so as to scare monger since using the correct expression of neutralisation does not sound scary.

    That said, neutralistion of the oceans could be a problem for some species depending upon how quickly this were to occur and the ability to adapt etc. The issue is to what real extent is neutralistion occuring, why is this, is it a problem and can any thing be done about it. In particular which species are adversely affected and unable to adapt and what will happen to the ecosystem if that species were to decline.

  25. PurpleToad says:

    “This is why all of the ocean animals dont swim into neutral river systems – because they are suited to the alkaline ocean not the neutral river.”

    The issue isn’t pH, but salinity. Since salt dehydrates, animals living in the ocean are adapted to maintain enough fluids in their bodies. Fresh water fish have the opposite problem and have to prevent their bodies from being water logged.
    http://www.kitsforkids.com/blog/2011/01/why-cant-saltwater-fish-live-in-fresh-water/

    Claiming that small of change in pH in a dynamic environment will cause all the fish to die is like saying a temperature change of 1° F over the course of a century will cause mass extinctions in an environment that can change >30° F in 1 day.

  26. spangled drongo says:

    Willis, with huge numbers of desal plants coming on stream won’t this have an increasing alkalinity effect?

  27. richard verney says:

    JJ says:
    December 28, 2011 at 2:03 am
    ///////////////////////////////////////////////
    I have to agree with almost all that is said in that post. They are points well made.

    It is the terminology in this debate that irks me, I can see the concern behind the issue raised, But like the entire global warming issue, this particular topic raises issues of natural variation, hasn’t all of this happened in the past and yet life contines and adaption with some species evolving others succumbing to natural extinction.

    I can vouch from my own personal experience on how harmful alkalines can be on human tissue. Back in the 70s, I got some alkali in my eyes and this significantly scarred the tissue such that in one eye I now see 20 or 30 images all slightly out of alignment such that for all practical purposes in that eye I can only see differnt concentrations of light which can be corrected only by the use of hard contact lenses. Glasses or even soft contact lenses will not correct the signt since what I require is a completely smooth surface on which the light falls to stop it defrecting. As JJ notes, it depends upon the sensitivity of each part of the body. Of course, if I had got that alkali on my hand it would not have caused any problem nor long term scarring.

  28. Rob Painting says:

    Kev-in-UK – “it’s all in the implied ‘problem”

    Yes, the repeated the coral reef extinctions and collapses which pepper the paleo record, connected with rapidly rising CO2, imply the current unprecedented rate of CO2 rise might be wee bit of a problem.

  29. Mark says:

    crosspatch says:

    Our planet and the species alive today are actually pretty CO2-stressed. Most are living toward the bottom edge of the CO2 range required for them to thrive even with the additional of human produced CO2 emissions.

    So much so that there are devices to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in commercial greenhouses. Indeed this would be the most meaningful way to refer to it as a “greenhouse gas”. It’s rather strange that using the emissions from a combustion power plant (or other industrial plant which produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct) to enrich the atmosphere in greenhouses is not more common. For one thing it would be simpler and cheaper than trying to pipe it under the ocean or into disused mines.

  30. Merrick says:

    Actually, pH can be lower than 0 and higher than 14. pH is the negative log10 of the hydrogen ion concentration, so for instance, a 10 molar concentration of a strong acid like HCl would have a pH of -1. Similar argument for a strong base at high concentrations.

    Someone also mentioned acidity related to tooth decay. In fact, the normal pH of your mouth (saliva) is slightly basic. Almost all foods disrupt that for a short time (plaque is the real villain) but chewing gum can help a lot – especially a gum with xylotol or a similar sugar. Incidentally, because saliva is both basic and has some buffer capacity, one of the most effective cures for heart burn is to chew a stick of gum. Far better than a lot of other chemicals going in.

  31. Mark says:

    Don K says:

    The specific issue raised by acidification alarmists is the affect of lower pH on marine creatures that have shells/skeletons made from Calcium Carbonate. And they do seem to have a point. Excess alkalinity may be tough on the critters themselves, but it won’t harm the shells. Excess acidity on the other hand makes it harder to form shells/skeletons and tends to dissolve existing shells. That’s oversimplified to begin with and is exacerbated when the acidifying (neutralizing) agent is CO2 which not only acidifies but supplies Carbonate and Bicarbonate Ions. The chemistry of Calcium Carbonate in sea water looks to be exceedingly complex. The “system” consists of solid Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Ions, Magnesium Ions, Carbonate ions. Bicarbonate Ions, Hydrogen Ions, and Hydroxyl (OH-) ions. It is very difficult to analyze. And it is temperature sensitive.

    The chemistry is complex without even considering that biochemistry is very complex.
    IIRC When experiments have been done with actual animals a slight reduction in pH (especially due to added CO2) is no problem at all. Indeed some actually appear to be better in such an environment.

  32. Rob Painting says:

    Willis Eschenbach – “The ocean is not getting acidified by additional CO2. It is getting neutralized by additional CO2″

    Which in other words means the pH is declining and the oceans are becoming acidified.

  33. DocWat says:

    Great plain language post. Illustrative examples are great for us without PhDs.

    Don’t think neutralization is going to catch on with the AGW crowd… far too neutral.

  34. Labmunkey says:

    @JJ, are you aware that you’ve made the same generalisation mistakes that you’re accusing willis of?

    Willis, i greatly enjoy reading your pieces, they are well thought out, well written and often very insightful. I get the impression we’d have some interesting chats over a dram or two…

    That said, you’ve left yourself open to some legitimate criticism here in this piece which i think detract from the main and 100% correct points made.

    Your assertions that alkalinity is of more concern than acidity, is not wholly safe. Both have issues and as ever, it’s the dergee and the ‘site’ of the acction that matters, i.e. the pH and the area- (skin or stomach lining, fish scales or eyes etc etc).

    I can understand why you’ve written it such, but it think it could do with tightening up slightly.

    Finally, your points on the terminology are bang on. It annoys me greatly (as a scientist) to see people misunderstanding or worse, willfully conflating scientific terminiology to suit their position. The ‘acidification/’neutralisation’ point is a prime example of this.

    That’s my two pence any way- feel free to disregard :-)

    Happy holidays all!

  35. Jessie says:

    Willis,
    A story and news clip for you – acidic, alkaline or plain stupidity…….

    Happy New Year to you and your family, thank you for the great posts in 2010.
    Learning much, with chuckles.

    http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/national/elvis-the-crocodile-charges-at-zookeepers-who-use-lawnmowers-as-shields-at-the-australian-reptile-park/story-e6freooo-1226231757395

  36. vincent says:

    I’ve published quite a bit in this area and yes willis is right it seems a mild alkalosis is generally more toxic than a mild acidosis. BTW human blood pH is very very tightly controlled at 7.4 which for us biologist is “neutral” as disctinct to 7.0 for lab people.Anyway one example is the conversion of non-toxic NH4 (not lipid soluble) to very toxic NH3 (lipid soluble by just a slight rise in blood pH . This probably occurrs in oceans as well re fish and ammonia. This is just one example.. there are probably thousands more in biology

  37. Mariwarcwm says:

    Crosspatch – I am very interested in your idea that species have died because of the drop in CO2 from 3500ppm to the present level. No one seems to ask why dinosaurs, for example were so very large, and the vegetation on which they lived equally large. All that lovely CO2 perhaps? Then, about 55 million years ago when CO2 dropped below 3500ppm, the dinosaurs and their vast vegetation died out and everything got a lot smaller. What was the plant that caused a sharp drop during the next million years?

  38. random non-scientist in the USA says:

    I like the comments in this one. They got me thinking critically about the post. My only question would be: Although it is lower pH toward Neutral, would life that is accustomed to, say a pH of 8, feel or have an effect that 7 is Acidic, even though 7 is defined as neither? Maybe the premise of this argument is incorrect as it feels like wordplay and relativism.

    I believe Mr. Eschenbach’s point was that “acidification” is an incorrect term as well as hyberbolic for the masses whom are more familiar with acid, with a second point being that there are natural fluctuations that are almost never mentioned. Well done on those points. What is the term was changed to “declining alkalinity” as opposed to “acidifying”? I only believe that would inform better, yet would have absolutely the same effect for the activists, which are inflexible as on every other issue.

    -took a short detour to wikipedia-

    I had been under the assumption most of my life that water-life was guided by salinity levels. I see they have different physiology, therefore changes mean they can expand their typical locations. I also found that salt is generally an alkali. Is this what makes the majority of alkalinity in oceans? If so it would correlate to sea levels, which in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida don’t seem any closer to A1A or the condos than where it was when I was a kid 20-30 years ago. Does alkalinity vary at various depths? various temps?

    Seems I came up with more questions. I can’t do anything about the fancy equations and charts put up; but this feels like some basic science within my grasp. Feel like a kid again getting one of those science kits with litmus paper strips in it. For the ocean, I usually only worry about man-o-war’s, sewage leak, an wayward sharks…I guess riptides too, but I consider that more a challenge that threat.

  39. philincalifornia says:

    Mark says:
    December 28, 2011 at 3:52 am
    Don K says:

    The chemistry is complex without even considering that biochemistry is very complex.
    IIRC When experiments have been done with actual animals a slight reduction in pH (especially due to added CO2) is no problem at all. Indeed some actually appear to be better in such an environment.
    =======================================

    This link, that summarizes the state of knowledge (i.e. empirical data) on the above, was posted by Streetcred over on the other thread:

    http://www.co2science.org/data/acidification/results.php

    Thank you Willis. Clearly there are some people who you will never get to admit that above pH7 is not acidic, but such propagandists will never be able to use the “science is settled” blindsiding argument against non-scientists for this topic thanks to prominent articles like this.

  40. P. Solar says:

    excellent article, I am much wiser on this subject now. Thanks.

    The interesting bit is the upwelling of deeper ocean water is the most significant of all. Deeper, colder water, with more CO2 is more acidic (sorry , more neutral ;) ).

  41. Richard111 says:

    Some time ago when Lake Nyos killed all those villagers with “poison gas” (CO2), I looked for effects of underwater volcanic release of CO2 and found this informative web page:
    http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work/Nyos.html
    Scroll down to “triggering mechanisms” and you will find this quote:

    “”It had been known for years that the water in Lake Nyos was extremely enriched in dissolved CO2. The lake overlies a volcanic source, which appears to release CO2 and other gases. However, most of this gas does not escape into the atmosphere, but rather dissolves into the bottom waters of the lake. At a depth of over 200 meter, the sheer weight of the upper lake levels exerts considerable pressures on the bottom waters. This confining pressure allows CO2 to dissolve into the bottom waters without escaping to the surface, in much the same way that the cap on a carbonated beverage prevents CO2 from bubbling out of its container. At a depth of 200 meters, water can hold 15 times its own volume in CO2. It has been estimated that every liter of water in the lower part of the lake may have contained between 1 to 5 liters of CO2!””

    I understand that there are in the order of ten thousand undersea volcanoes continuously venting CO2 into the oceans at depths far greater than 200 metres. Are these effects taken into account? Does it impact on the much quoted figure of 50:1 for dissolved CO2 in the oceans?

  42. Pamela Gray says:

    The reason why we could “run out” of fossil fuel is not for lack of raw product but for political reasons. Something that is within the control of the greater populous having the courage to demand fossil fuel production. And the key word is courage. If our collective and free will vote cannot bring it to bare, then a little revolution might be in our future, something US citizenry are taught to honor and uphold.

  43. Raveendran Narayanan says:

    Since 1980 pH of the Oceans & Seas did NOT changed more or less 0.10 pH. The Climate WAR WILL BE WON by those who have Oceans & Seas Analysis since 1980.

  44. Ric Werme says:

    For give me for not doing the obvious search, but this might be a good discussion point.

    I learned that low pH was corrosive and high pHs were caustic. In between, perhaps “meh” would be a usful use of that neologism. I forget what we called cars rusting out quickly thanks to road salt. (I think Japan called it a sales opportunity and after cars like the Ford Fiesta and Chevy Vega, Detroit called it catchup. “Ford Motor Company hates rust” in commercials. Was Bill Cosby the spokesman? Too long ago.)

    All that was in regard to metals and inorganic chemistry. What does corrosion mean to organic chemistry and shellfish?

  45. Ric Werme says:

    Rob Painting says:
    December 28, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Willis Eschenbach – “The ocean is not getting acidified by additional CO2. It is getting neutralized by additional CO2″

    Which in other words means the pH is declining and the oceans are becoming acidified.

    DocWat says:
    December 28, 2011 at 4:02 am

    Great plain language post. Illustrative examples are great for us without PhDs.

    Don’t think neutralization is going to catch on with the AGW crowd… far too neutral.

    Certainly looks that way. A serendipitous pair of adjacent comments!

  46. Steve Keohane says:

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought an excess of H ions was acidic, an excess of OH ions alkaline, and you have one or the other. An alkaline solution doesn’t become acidified until there are no OH ions, when pH<=7.0.

  47. richard verney says:

    Rob Painting says:
    December 28, 2011 at 3:53 am
    ////////////////////////////////////
    No No No No
    As a matter of correct terminology, they would only become acidified once the ph falls below the 7 mark. .

  48. mkelly says:

    JJ says:
    December 28, 2011 at 2:03 am
    “… Living things have an optimum pH that they can operate with for various functions, and those pH optimums differ from function to function and from species to species…”

    JJ we are talking about the oceans or did you miss that. So your sentence above is what he was talking about. ie. The life in the oceans are not harmed by the small variation caused by a change in pH from CO2 because they started there.

    I like pickled beets but not biscuits with too much baking soda.

  49. PaulID says:

    Rob Painting says:
    December 28, 2011 at 3:53 am
    Rob how can you read this and not understand I have to assume it is a willful and deliberate misunderstanding IT IS NOT ACIDIFYING it is NEUTRALIZING please learn the difference between those words and stop regurgitating whatever the HIGHpriests of CAGW spout in other words THINK FOR YOURSELF. To Willis another home run despite people latching on to side points and missing the real point.

  50. Roger Knights says:

    Rob Painting says:
    December 28, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Willis Eschenbach – “The ocean is not getting acidified by additional CO2. It is getting neutralized by additional CO2″

    Which in other words means the pH is declining and the oceans are becoming acidified.

    In other words the oceans are becoming like lemon juice, is what your double-speak implies. But they aren’t. They’re becoming like fresh water–neutral.

  51. Coldish says:

    “Figure 4. Thirty day pH records of areas of oceanic upwelling. This upwelling occurs, among other places, along the eastern shores of the continents. ” I had thought the upwelling more characteristic of the eastern shores of the oceans, as off Peru – but perhaps that’s what you meant. Interesting article anyway, Willis. For those who want to read more on this subject, there’s a popular scientific website with a regularly updated archive of research on the biological effects of slightly lowered oceanic pH. It seems the effects can be beneficial.

    [Indeed, on the western side of the continents is correct, my error. I'll fix it. Thanks. —w.]

  52. ferd berple says: December 28, 2011 at 12:42 am
    ………In moist environments steel rusts much quicker when there is high levels of CO2 from cities and industries for example, than in rural areas.
    *************************
    Hmmmmmm………Reference??
    Puzzled and Bewildered,
    Steamboat Jack (Jon Jewett’s evil twin)

  53. Don Keiller says:

    Somewhat off topic, but the World needs to konw what passess for educational “debate” in the UK.
    http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/11/tackling-climate-change/2050/3670-2050-schools-toolkit-pdf-version.pdf
    I really do think a legal challenge to this sort of Government produced AGW propaganda masquerading as teaching materials is long overdue.

  54. DJ says:

    Acidified, neutralized, or whatever, it doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. Simply because nature will adapt, compromise, evolve, or whatever. Humans will, being part of nature, get moved along with the Great Slurry.

    I’m in agreement with Willis, that the intent of the language is alarmist. The effect of the process is marginal and life will adapt. Given that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are but 4% of the total, It’s hard for me to accept serious responsibility for the “acidification”.

    Besides, there are creatures that thrive in acidic environments, like acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, and some will even make their own acid if needed. Species adapt, and to believe the oceans have always been at a constant pH is patently absurd.

  55. thingadonta says:

    Yeah one of the things that geologists rile over is that the full oceanic conditions, including oceanic volcanoes, Mid Oceanic Ridges (expelling and intaking enormous amounts of seawater and exchanging chemicals), the processes and rate of non-organic carbonate precipitation and dissolution within seawater, etc etc cannot be easily reproduced in the laboratory. It is highly likely, that the oceans are strongly buffered, for a variety of reasons, against even modest scale pH changes,which, as usual is not incorporated in the alarmist models.

    Even wikipeadia mentions that carbonate dissolution and precipitation, which is in an equilibrium state strongly sensitive to any changes in ocean chemistry, on the sea floor is likley to mitigate the effects of long term oceanic intake of c02 and climate change, but they carefully state that this effect is only likely to be significant over time scales of centuries. I am not so sure, chemical dissolution and precipitation effects are is more or less instantaneous.

    From wikipedia:
    “Leaving aside direct biological effects, it is expected that ocean acidification in the future will lead to a significant decrease in the burial of carbonate sediments for several centuries, and even the dissolution of existing carbonate sediments.[53] This will cause an elevation of ocean alkalinity, leading to the enhancement of the ocean as a reservoir for CO2 with moderate (and potentially beneficial) implications for climate change as more CO2 leaves the atmosphere for the ocean.”

    I have drilled through thousands of metres of carbonate- enriched sediments and volcanics, from undersea volcanoes, which interact with ocean chemistry in the subsurface of the oceans on a worldwide, and very large, scale. Changes in carbonate chemistry in the ocean will directly effect the dissolution and precipitation rates of carbonate within these large volumes of sediments around these massive heat sources-which extend for thousands of kilometres in every ocean (eg Mid Oceanic Ridges). I have never seen one paper discuss or address this.

  56. John says:

    Willis, you are right to complain about inaccurate language, language that sounds scary to average people. Climate change activists and their syncophants (e.g., “reporters”) want to keep up the barrage of scare stories.

    But there are potential issues behind the scary headlines. The issue is the extent to which lower pH in the ocean affects the carbonate cycle of creatures that build shells — will they dissolve, or more likely, will it be hard for creatures to build shells with lower pH. You have probably seen the scary video of a carbonate plastic bottle slowly dissolving, disappearing, as the pH is slightly lowered. That is part of the scary story hype as well.

    Scientists are actually doing real world experiments now, and are finding that most creatures that build shells or carapaces — crabs, oysters, corals, clams, urchins, and so on — actually can continue to build shell at lower pH than most had previously thought, without much drop in the pace of shell or coral building. If we were to get to atmospheric CO2 of around 1,500 ppm (we are very far from that), then my read of the science is that some creatures would have difficulty building shell (some oysters, for example) but others would not (lobsters, for example, which continue to build more shell, even when CO2 levels are above 2,700 ppm).

    So there is a legitimate issue, albeit one that is overhyped as usual, when CO2 gets very high and pH below 7.5 or so, for some creatures. Whether there is an issue at 700 ppm or 900 ppm appears unlikely for many shell builders, according to the science that has been done so far, but there could yet be an issue for some. Therefore: we actually need to do science. Some people are actually doing that, and discovering that in most cases, slightly lower pH, the levels associated with 600 or 700 ppm CO2, don’t get in the way of shell building, or coral reef building, and so on. But I would agree that we need to keep doing the science.

    None of the above in any way disputes your point about once again the warmists are telling scare stories. I’m waiting for the one about polar bears dissolving on their long swims when there is no ice…..

  57. Jeremy says:

    I find no shortage of amazement at the effort humans will place on self-deception for the purpose of preserving a cherished fear.

  58. WetMan says:

    In general, animal cells, including fish cells, can better withstand a one unit drop in pH from their normal value than a one unit increase.That is why we use a pH incidator in mammalian cell culture where 7.4 is the set value (like blood). Orange (pH 6) is still OK, purple (pH 8.5) is byebye. Thus it is true that acidification is better tolerated than alcalination. However, we do talk of acidification when the pH decreases from its set value. So while talking of “acidification of the ocean” may be intentionally misleading it is scientifically correct.

  59. DocWat says:

    Pamela Gray…

    What is the quote from Thomas Jefferson… “A little revolution, every now and then, is a good thing”

  60. Ex-Wx Forecaster says:

    The dire consequences of ocean acidification is one of the most ridiculous claims made by Globalwarmists. Atmospheric CO2 was more than 10 times higher during the nearly all of the Paleozoic compared to today. Somehow, corals and other creatures with calcite shells and skeletons survived just fine and managed to form gigantic reefs visible in many places in the world. They didn’t dissolve. Yet, somehow, this concept is incomprehensible to the alarmist crowd.

    I’ve had arguments about ocean water “acidification” a number of times. In particular, there was an unnamed clown who sincerely believed that reduction of the ocean’s pH from 8.2 to 7.8 would rapidly dissolve calcium carbonate animal shells. Clearly, he didn’t understand chemistry at all. To demonstrate, I put a nice, fresh sea shell into a jar of distilled water and put it right where he could see it for about six months. Even at the frighteningly acidified pH of 7.0, the shell didn’t change.

    His response? “Proves nothing. The experts know what they’re talking about. You’re just a geologist.”

    Too bad I don’t work there anymore. I’d love to see his reaction when he found out I’m now an official “IPCC Expert Reviewer”.

  61. Richard Lewis says:

    Steve Keohane says:

    December 28, 2011 at 6:29 am

    “Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought an excess of H ions was acidic, an excess of OH ions alkaline, and you have one or the other. An alkaline solution doesn’t become acidified until there are no OH ions, when pH7) takes the hydrogen ion concentration back to the level present in pure water, not to zero.

    So, back to the semantical question: In my view, absent the “alarmist’s” capture of the therm “acidification”, it is a perfectly acceptable term as it accurately desribes the direction of measurement, i.e., to a greater concentration of hydrogen ions. If not narrowly defined, “neutralization” suggests movement to a state of NO hydrogen ions, which is objectively incorrect.

  62. TheGoodLocust says:

    I’ve always been amused by some of the health nut quackery about avoiding “acidifying” the body. It is interesting how people get their misconceptions and how they translate across sectors. They see acid in movies and so they are afraid of acid in the body and the oceans.

    They see that the sun powers the mighty Superman and so they assume solar power has great potential.

    However, I must take exception to the most basic food being dates. I’m not positive, but I think century eggs might be more basic. The preservation process uses lye.

    Maybe that’s why they taste so…..odd.

  63. Ric Werme says:

    Steve Keohane says:
    December 28, 2011 at 6:29 am

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought an excess of H ions was acidic, an excess of OH ions alkaline, and you have one or the other. An alkaline solution doesn’t become acidified until there are no OH ions, when pH<=7.0.

    In pure water, a small percentage of molecules break into ions, and winds up at 10^-7 molar concentrations of both H+ and OH-. The negative of the log of H+ is pH, i.e. -log(10^-7) = 7.

    In an acidic solution, there’s a lot more H+ kicking around, so the pH is lower. They also scavenge the OH-, so there’s a lot less of them. In a basic solution, there’s an excess of OH- and they scavenge H+, so the pH is higher. I think? learned? assumed? that the sum of the logs of each concentration was always -14. At least equal amounts of pH 4 and pH 10 solutions leave a neutral solution, discounting effects of buffering, precipitation, and other reactions.

  64. Jeff Alberts says:

    “I like pickled beets but not biscuits with too much baking soda.”

    I sure hope you mean baking powder.

  65. JJ says:

    mkelly says:
    December 28, 2011 at 6:38 am

    JJ we are talking about the oceans or did you miss that.

    My post was to Willis, and he was talking about a lot more than just oceans. He was talking about food and human stomachs and all manner of other things, and pretending that those had relevance to the oceans. They do not. That was my point, or did you miss that?

    So your sentence above is what he was talking about. ie.

    Absolutely false.

    The life in the oceans are not harmed by the small variation caused by a change in pH from CO2 because they started there.

    That assertion is not supported by anything that Willis posted. Biochemistry is a very complex subject, and cannot be truthfully replaced with platitudes like “Life doesn’t like alkalinity, but doesn’t mind acidity at all.” That statement is not true, and complex subjects like biochemistry cannot be simplified by mixing well with equal parts bullshit. Willis needs to learn that, and having done so he can move on to learning the difference between acute and chronic toxicity. That bit invalidates the rest of Willis’ post.

    I like pickled beets but not biscuits with too much baking soda.

    We pickle beets, cucumbers, and other vegetables with acid. We do that to keep other living organisms from eating our food. Acid kills those living organisms. See, even you can come up with common sense disproofs of the silly statement that “life doesn’t mind acidity at all” – and you weren’t even trying.

  66. Dr K.A. Rodgers says:

    “Declining”??? “Increasing”??
    In using [and debating]m these terms, please remember that pH is minus [negative] the log of the hydrogen ion activity [concentration] so that, among other things, that cute little scale at the left of Willis’ diagrams is logarithmic.

  67. Viv Evans says:

    Thanks for this post, Willis.

    You say:
    “It is a measure of the “ivory tower” nature of much of climate science that the hysteria about so-called “acidification” has been going on for so long without an actual look at the actual ocean to see what difference a small change towards neutrality might actually make.”
    The reason why the ivory tower inhabitants use ‘acidification’ is of course the thorough politicisation of climate science.
    No NGO or propagandist worthy of their name would use such un-scary expressions as ‘neutralisation’, when they can scare normal people with ‘acidic’ and, see your quote above, even ‘corrosive’.
    It is the same process which mutated CO2 into ‘carbon’ – a black, dirty, stuff.
    Both these expressions link to fear (corrosive) and pollution (carbon) in the mind of the ordinary people. It is a technique used by advertising agencies, and any woman who has ever watched a TV commercial about washing powder washing whiter than white will unconsciously agree that this dirty black stuff carbon ought to be forbidden.

    It is political propaganda all the way down …

  68. eyesonu says:

    Willis, thank you, again!

    I’m glad I’m a realist, as if that were not the case I would be at a loss to try to debunk you.

    You sir, have an overall knowledge base that is incredible. Your presentations of the facts / science is overwhelmingly conductive to communication.

    Carry on!

  69. David Boleneus says:

    BUFFERING: Willis, perhaps you or another more expert than I can comment on the buffering effect of the ocean water, a subject so far not discussed (or perhaps unknown) within the simplists’ view of acidification….. As we know ocean water is salty consisting of ionized form of sulfates, chlorides and the like. Given its volume and concentration of these salts makes ocean water the most gigantically-potent buffer known. Since the effect of a buffer is to block or impede any change in pH, is my thinking correct to say that the effect of any addition of carbon dioxide, or alkaline or acidic compound would be “blocked” or “neutralized” by the buffering effects of worlds’ oceans?

  70. mkelly says:

    JJ says:
    December 28, 2011 at 8:41 am
    mkelly says:
    December 28, 2011 at 6:38 am

    JJ we are talking about the oceans or did you miss that.
    JJ says : “Absolutely false.”

    “The Ocean Is Not Getting Acidified” title of post.

    I believe JJ you are wrong again. See title of post above.

    Again, you miss the point I eat pickled beets (acid) and they do me no harm and I enjoy them. The base (baking soda) loaded biscuits I cannot eat under any circumstances.

  71. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Don K says:
    December 28, 2011 at 2:43 am

    In general, a good article. Having back at the dawn of time earned a degree in Chemistry from an otherwise reputable college, I’m fine with the term “acidification” because “neutralization” only works if the pH of the medium is above 7. But no matter.

    Thanks, Don. In the world of how we actually use language, your distinction is not true. As I pointed out, we put baking soda on spilled battery acid to neutralize it, and the “ph of the medium” is about 1, well below 7. In English, “neutralize” means to make neutral or to move in the direction of neutrality regardless of the pH of the medium.

    w.

  72. agesilaus says:

    I see Dr Rogers corrected the pH definition to activity not concentration. Something I’ll never forget after getting a face to face lecture on it from the fellow running the Freshman Chem Lab.

    Also there is a practical reason for using acids as the titrant (material used to titrate unknown solutions). Basic (aka alkaline) solutions absorb CO2 from the air and change their pH. Acid solutions don’t and are easier to store and to keep at a known concentration. So acid solutions are preferentially used.

    The fellow who thinks CO2 accelerates metal corrosion in alkaline solutions is wrong. CO2 react with water to form -HCO3 + H+, the H+ will neutralize alkaline solution but will acidify neutral or acid solutions. The increased acidity in acid solutions might accelerate corrosion. But a high pH solution with very high carbonate (sodium carbonate solution for example) will be protective of iron. Indeed this has a name, it is called passifying the metal surface.

  73. Pat Moffitt says:

    Willis’s chart on the reef is a good example demonstrating CO2 is not a major issue with respect to shallow water pH – reefs or other any other shallow habitat. There are simply too many other potential processes at work including the sediment-water column sulfur cycle (ex. H2S) , nitrification/de-nitrication alkalinity effects, terrestrial organic acid inputs, photosynthetic response, respiration that overwhelm the rather small impact of a small change in pCO2. And if this were not sufficient to make the point- these shallow water marine habitats are also subject to the chemistries/dilution of the groundwater flux moving up through the sediments and/or the more direct inputs of surface freshwater sources.
    Yet most of the papers touting the dangers of “ocean acidification” utilize the inhabitants of these shallow habitats to justify the alarm.

    Although I’m not so sure I would ascribe to alkaline being any worse (or better) than acidic as this post does. They’re just different states with different eco-systems organizing/adapting around it. What is seen is as good and bad is generally nothing more than a value judgement.

  74. David Boleneus says:

    SOLUBILITY OF CARBON DIOXIDE–>FORMATION OF LIMESTONE: Willis, there is an other topic of concern so far lacking in any discussion of CO2 in worlds oceans. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable could comment on this. It is the CO2 balance between that of cold and warm waters. (Search Internet for CO2 Solubility Curve.) That is what happens between CO2 and sea water in the Arctic/Antarctic versus CO2 and water in the tropics. Inherent in this topic is the vastly increased solubility, or so the chemists say, of CO2 in cold water of up to 3.5 g/kg water compared to only 0.5 g/kg water for water at tropical temperatures. From this we can conclude that CO2 is many times more soluble in cold compared to tropical waters. Less well known is that the upwelling of CO2-oversaturated waters in the tropics is likened to a “failsafe” mechanism that opposes overproduction of CO2 leading to the transfer of CO2 to limestone. This action results in a release of CO2 leading to precipitation of limestone. As cold waters move from depth toward the surface in the tropics, become CO2-oversaturated, and in the presence of calcium and bicarbonate ions, precipitate as calcium carbonate, limestone, in many forms: by action of shelled organisms, for coralline structures, as carbonate muds (i.e. Andros Is.), as oolite, pisolites, algal heads, and many other forms of precipitates. The overall effect is a moderation or a reduction of the oversaturated state of CO2. Geologists know that mountain ranges across the US, Canada, Europe, Asia are built mainly of limestone. Limestone deposits have formed on earth’s crust since early Precambrian time. Limestone is the final product of this natural failsafe mechanism.

  75. Jim G says:

    DocWat says:
    December 28, 2011 at 7:36 am
    Pamela Gray…

    What is the quote from Thomas Jefferson… “A little revolution, every now and then, is a good thing”

    ‘The tree of liberty needs to be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots every 25 years’ is closer to what he said per my old person’s memory.

  76. Outtheback says:

    I suggest that you remove the mention of the layer of mucus on saltwater fish to protect against pH, most, possibly all, fresh water fish have thick layers of mucus also.
    The amount of mucus seems be more related to where the fish mainly dwells (as opposed to feeds, most fish are predominantly bottom feeders), bottom dwellers tend to have more mucus then upper layer swimmers. Perhaps more of a layer to protect against injury and fungal attack when injured, then pH.

    Since colder water can hold more CO2 it stands to reason that there is more CO2 in the deeper waters of the ocean, lower pH probably.
    Last time I read about the deep oceans they were teaming with life, including shell bearing life, and researchers are always astonished by how much life there is deep down. So how much harm can CO2 cause, yes I do realize that the upper layers have evolved with less CO2 hence it may upset the balance, but it does not appear to be harmful to ocean life deep down.

    Arguably both terms are correct IF the pH of the ocean is indeed dropping.
    Laboratory models to show what should happen with more CO2 in the upper layers of the oceans is more akin to CAGW, Computer Aided Global Warming.
    But as mentioned earlier, acidification is much scarier. And if it increases we have caustification of the oceans, and no doubt that is bad too.
    “Natural variability” does not produce funding.
    The really good line with all the warming research is that any report always ends with: “more research is needed to conclude the conclusions” or words to that effect.

    In other words: more funding please.

  77. Alan Statham says:

    Acidity is no problem for life compared to alkalinity

    Ha ha, good one. Try drinking a pint of sulphuric acid, and then say that again.

    It is a measure of the “ivory tower” nature of much of climate science that the hysteria about so-called “acidification” has been going on for so long without an actual look at the actual ocean to see what difference a small change towards neutrality might actually make.

    If you want to really make sure that people are aware of your ignorance of the scientific literature, keep on making absurd claims like this.

  78. Willis Eschenbach says:

    JJ says:
    December 28, 2011 at 8:41 am

    … We pickle beets, cucumbers, and other vegetables with acid. We do that to keep other living organisms from eating our food. Acid kills those living organisms. See, even you can come up with common sense disproofs of the silly statement that “life doesn’t mind acidity at all” – and you weren’t even trying.

    Gosh, you sure proved that “silly statement” was wrong, the idiotic claim that “life doesn’t mind acidity at all.” That was a slam dunk.

    Only problem is … you were the one who invented that silly statement out of your own imaginings, and you were the only one in the thread to make that silly statement. I said nothing of the sort.

    So now you have something that, to use your lovely word, “disproofs” your own statement, the statement no one made but you.

    Your momma must be very proud, not everyone can disproof their own statements. I suspect that any day now you’ll start to think you can disproof the statements of others.

    In that regard I must warn you, however, that disproofing other people’s statements is much harder than disproofing your own statements, so don’t get disappointed if you encounter an early lack of success.

    w.

  79. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Dr K.A. Rodgers says:
    December 28, 2011 at 8:50 am

    “Declining”??? “Increasing”??
    In using [and debating]m these terms, please remember that pH is minus [negative] the log of the hydrogen ion activity [concentration] so that, among other things, that cute little scale at the left of Willis’ diagrams is logarithmic.

    Thank you, Dr. K. You are certainly correct. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m not sure why it’s relevant. What does saying “the scale is logarithmic” change when discussing increasing or decreasing alkalinity or acidity due to changes in atmospheric CO2?

    w.

  80. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Several people have objected to the idea that alkalinity is worse for living creatures than acidity. A typical comment was:

    Pat Moffitt says:
    December 28, 2011 at 9:56 am

    … Although I’m not so sure I would ascribe to alkaline being any worse (or better) than acidic as this post does. They’re just different states with different eco-systems organizing/adapting around it.

    If that were the case, we’d eat equally from the acid and the alkaline.

    But although we eat things all the way down to a pH of about 2, way below seven, we (and almost all mammals) only eat things with a pH up to about 8.5, scarcely into the alkaline range at all.

    Finally, consider that we eat the roots and fruit and bodies of a host of plants and animals … and since we eat mostly acids, that means that their bodies are overwhelmingly acidic. There are plenty of kinds of trees that produce fruit that is three units on the acid side of neutral. But I know of none that produce fruit three units on the alkaline side of neutral.

    The bodies of the things we eat are acid, we eat many very acidic things and almost no alkaline things, our bodies contain strong acids but not strong alkalies … I don’t see how you can claim that they are just “different states” that are somehow equal. Life comes down on the side of acid.

    w.

  81. Smokey says:

    Alan Statham says:

    “Try drinking a pint of sulphuric acid, and then say that again.”

    The more you comment the more foolish you look. That is the most far fetched analogy I’ve seen this week. And that’s saying a lot.

  82. Willie says:

    Global warming is not due to greenhouse gases, its due to the earth’s orbit around the sun destabilizing, you have been lied too. Please read my blog at: orbital-decay1.blogspot.com.

  83. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Outtheback says:
    December 28, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I suggest that you remove the mention of the layer of mucus on saltwater fish to protect against pH, most, possibly all, fresh water fish have thick layers of mucus also.
    The amount of mucus seems be more related to where the fish mainly dwells (as opposed to feeds, most fish are predominantly bottom feeders), bottom dwellers tend to have more mucus then upper layer swimmers. Perhaps more of a layer to protect against injury and fungal attack when injured, then pH.

    Outtheback, the term “inter alia” means “among other things”. Read my quote again. You say exactly what I said, in your last sentence, that among other things the mucus is to protect against pH.

    w.

  84. Leon Brozyna says:

    Interesting … as always … always grounded in common sense.

    Eggs … alkaline. Hmmm … when we’re not taking them scrambled or over easy they serve as little “incubators” for the life that later emerges. So those little chicks swim in a mini alkaline sea.

  85. jorgekafkazar says:

    James of the West says: “…all of the ocean animals dont swim into neutral river systems – because they are suited to the alkaline ocean not the neutral river.”

    Uh, James, salmon do this all the time. And you call yourself “James of the West?” West Kansas, is it? And it’s not the neutrality that keeps most fish out at sea–it’s the lack of salt. . There’s hundreds of time more salt than bicarbonate ion in seawater.

  86. u.k.(us) says:

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    December 28, 2011 at 10:35 am
    “Finally, consider that we eat the roots and fruit and bodies of a host of plants and animals … and since we eat mostly acids, that means that their bodies are overwhelmingly acidic. There are plenty of kinds of trees that produce fruit that is three units on the acid side of neutral. But I know of none that produce fruit three units on the alkaline side of neutral.”
    ===========
    To take your observation even farther, many plants survival depends on producing tasty fruit that will be consumed, thereby dispersing the seeds contained within.

  87. JPeden says:

    “Both are corrosive of living tissue, but alkalinity has a stronger effect.”

    I was taught that on an equal basis of acid to “alkali”, the latter “denatures” the final, “tertiary”, structure of proteins, which involves their individual chains [several chains comprising one protein, kind of twisted together] associating with each other via indirect bonding, while the acid does not do this, In other words, the acid does not break down proteins as easily.

  88. Pat Moffitt says:

    Willis is absolutely correct to push back against the use of the term acidification. Its use by the regulatory agencies and NGOs is nothing more than an attempt to frame the issue within the context already established in popular culture – acid is bad. EPA and NGOs have some thirty years invested in selling this message which first started with acid rain. Ocean acidification simply replaces SO2 with CO2- builds on the Public fear already created- allowing the NGOs to boost donations, regulatory expansion, and academics to get grants -while continuing their attacks on their hated enemy- fossil fuels. We as usual get to pick up the tab.
    As Willis pointed out all rain is acid- always has been- always will be. The term acid rain was picked by NGOs to frame the debate and freeze out scientists trying to put the issue into context. The press was able to tell the Public that every scientists believed in acid rain just as they later correctly claimed every scientist believed in climate change. Acidification follows this same ugly and deceptive tradition of framing.

  89. John says:

    Regarding survival of coral species, a Nov. 2011 study looked at what kinds of corals (if any) grew near a natural CO2 seepage into the ocean, in Mexico. The study is “Calcifying coral abundance near low-pH springs: implications for future ocean acidification,” by Crook et al. The pH varies between about 6.3 and 7.3 (today’s open ocean pH is about 8.1, down from about 8.2 a century ago), and pH levels which alarm the most fearful of alarmists can be as high as 7.9, while somewhat more sober scientists worry more about 7.7 or 7.6.

    The study found, surprisingly to many observers, that three scleractinian coral species could grow in these waters, extremely “acidic” by the standards of the alarmists — a pH of 6.3 actually IS acidic. Other corals, including the main reef building corals, were absent.

    There are three take aways from this article for me (Abstract pasted below). The first is that you have to do the science, period. The second is that some corals can grow as well as survive at far lower pH than expected. The third is that there are some limits of pH below which some corals can’t grow. We are very far from those limits, but they do exist, probably well above 1,000 ppm of CO2 based on other published research.

    “Abstract:

    Abstract Rising atmospheric CO2 and its equilibration with surface ocean seawater is lowering both the pH and carbonate saturation state (omega) of the oceans. Numerous calcifying organisms, including reef-building corals, may be severely impacted by declining aragonite and calcite saturation, but the fate of coral reef ecosystems in response to ocean acidification remains largely unexplored. Naturally low saturation (omega * 0.5) low pH (6.70–7.30) groundwater has been discharging for millennia at localized submarine springs (called ‘‘ojos’’) at Puerto Morelos, Mexico near the Mesoamerican Reef. This ecosystem provides insights into potential long term responses of coral ecosystems to low saturation conditions. In-situ chemical and biological data
    indicate that both coral species richness and coral colony size decline with increasing proximity to low-saturation, low-pH waters at the ojo centers. Only three scleractinian coral species (Porites astreoides, Porites divaricata, and Siderastrea radians) occur in undersaturated waters at all ojos examined. Because these three species are rarely major contributors to Caribbean reef framework, these data may indicate that today’s more complex frame-building species may be replaced by smaller, possibly patchy, colonies of only a few species along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The growth of these scleractinian coral species at undersaturated conditions illustrates that the response to ocean acidification is likely to vary across species and environments; thus, our data emphasize the need to better understand the mechanisms of calcification to more accurately predict future impacts of ocean acidification.”

  90. Outtheback says:

    Willis
    Thanks for your reply.
    And so it shows that everyone reads and interprets everything differently which is possibly why there are always such a variety of responses to any post.
    Of course we can take all the “perhaps” and “possible” etc out of everything but as nothing is certain other then death and tax we would all be wrong from the first word we write.
    The way I read that part of your post is that you place the emphasis on the mucus being there as pH protection and in particular alkaline pH and other things are less important. To me it also reads in a way that it is primarily an ocean fish issue.
    What I am trying to say is that the mucus is not there so much for pH protection, if at all, but injury protection being the primary reason and both fresh and salt water fish have mucus.
    As such I feel that that particular comment is out of place.
    Regards

  91. Viv Evans says:

    jorgekafkazar says, December 28, 2011 at 10:59 am
    James of the West says: “…all of the ocean animals dont swim into neutral river systems – because they are suited to the alkaline ocean not the neutral river.”

    Uh, James, salmon do this all the time. And you call yourself “James of the West?” West Kansas, is it? And it’s not the neutrality that keeps most fish out at sea–it’s the lack of salt. . There’s hundreds of time more salt than bicarbonate ion in seawater.

    Thanks for picking this up.

    James of the West might like to look up “euryhaline”- it ain’t just salmon who are euryhaline species.

  92. philincalifornia says:

    Out of curiosity, and since I don’t follow him closely, has Obama run this one up the flagpole yet ??

    I remember Julia Gillard and her “Ocean assification”, but is it going to be big meme here next year ??

    I think he has enough sense to stay with “energy security”, but I could be surprised.

  93. JJ says:

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    December 28, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Gosh, you sure proved that “silly statement” was wrong, the idiotic claim that “life doesn’t mind acidity at all.” That was a slam dunk.

    Only problem is … you were the one who invented that silly statement out of your own imaginings, and you were the only one in the thread to make that silly statement. I said nothing of the sort.

    For F@#$ Sake Willis, you did too. Read your own post. Own your words.

    You do some good things here, but you are an argumentative SOB who will choose to die on the tiniest of hills rather than admit error.

    Grow up.

  94. Pat Moffitt says:

    I hereby declare- I am no longer an environmentalist- I quit!

    I want nothing to do with people, scientists or organizations willing to sacrifice the opportunity for resolving our natural resources challenges in the interest of tenure, grants, donations and regulatory self interest while smugly patting themselves on the back.
    The immoral practice of hijacking real environmental challenges to fit and support the environmental narrative must be made to stop. The chances for Atlantic salmon restoration were destroyed as a result of being made the poster animal for Acid Rain. And Acidification is now hijacking the hopes for shell fish restoration especially the oyster- a critical key stone specie. It will joint a depressingly long list of other hijackings across terrestrial and aquatic environments.
    The environmental narrative cared nothing about the fact most of the oysters on both U.S. coasts crashed by 1920 due to over harvest and the associated destruction of their shell reefs. We have spent next to nothing over the decades trying to find a cure for the oyster plagues- MSX, Dermo and Vibrio that hit these already suffering populations – reducing their numbers from 20% of historic values in the 1920s to perhaps only 1 to 2% today.
    A recent post by Anthony on the Pacific oyster demonstrates oyster survival are already being repackaged as a CO2 issue. One would think the forces that caused a decline in 98 to 99% in oyster numbers would and should be the primary focus of our efforts. No- the environmental movement will “allow no crisis to go to waste” in serving regulatory and NGO self interest.
    I have become so tired of being called anti-environmental because I choose to focus on restoration versus protection or for the belief that resources must be directed to known problems rather than theoretical problems. I am particularly fatigued being repeated told that only the politically correct narrative will be tolerated. And I’m tired of being tired. A new movement must be built- one that eschews Public deception and champions science as tool for improving our natural resources. And it must start today.

  95. Al Gored says:

    Another brilliant, common sense based article Willis. Love that comparitive pH graph!

    Seems that ‘acidification’ threat to the oceans is as dire as the radiation threat of bananas.

  96. oeman50 says:

    Good post, Willis. It appears many people are getting wrapped around the axle about your discussion about the differing biological preferences for acidic or alkaline environments. I took those as general illustrations to counter the negatives heaped upon “ocean acidifcation” by CAGWists. Since this topic is often cited as the next avenue of attack on human production of CO2 after the temperature gig falls on its face, it is useful to shed some light on the issue.

    It is also apparent from some of the comments here that pH/acidity/alkalinity and the effects of CO2 on them are not well understood, even by an audience as technically savy as this one. For example, I once did a pH calculation for water at the temperature and pressure of a nuclear reactor core. Neutrality is actually at a pH of about 5, not 7. And the pressures of the deep oceans, the flux of CO2 and other acid producing gasses moving from surface waters and volcanic floor vents all have an effect on pH that I do not think are well understood. Does that situation remind you of anything, like maybe the understanding of the mechanisms of how the climate varies?

  97. Bad Apple says:

    The first step to controlling thought is to control language. As long as there some people who want to change the way other people live their lives, language will be the first tool used to achieve that end..

  98. Steve Garcia says:

    @Kev-in-UK December 28, 2011 at 12:08 am:

    I haven’t read anything about the acidification of oceans caused by natural decomposing organic matter, or by submarine volcanic eruptions/vents – even though such things do cause significant acidifying production.

    This is the same as with CAGW – without doing a thorough empirical study of the other individual forcings, all of a sudden, Hansen, early on, jumped to the conclusion that human activity is throwing the balance of nature off. (Read Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear” for a good synopsis of what happens when we intend to affect the “balance of nature” in a positive way – and screw it all up.) A thorough scientific approach would be to measure all factors and determine their relative contributions to both the stability and the variations that occur. Only after having all this in hand is any attribution of human blame a logical conclusion.

    Personally, I feel there should be far more concern about waste dumping, etc – than CO2 acidification!

    THIS is one of the true crimes (I use the word advisedly) about the whole anthropogenic CO2 issue. While all these billions have been spent on studying CO2 and its supposed damages – and future moneys will far exceed what has been spent so far – there are so MANY things that we could be getting measurable positive results from.

    Bjorn Lomborg has it right – we should be addressing real, tangible problems of today, not trying to cool the Earth 0.01C by the year 2100 on the say so of some computer model results. No matter HOW good the models are, 0.01C reduction isn’t worth spending a dime on, much less $250 billion annually for the next 90 years. I can think of SO many other things that need fixing.

  99. Pat Moffitt says:

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    Several people have objected to the idea that alkalinity is worse for living creatures than acidity. A typical comment was:
    Pat Moffitt says…………

    It was not my intent to say that acid systems were worse.The soils of most forest systems are acidic and in fact if they were alkaline it would totally restructure the biome. The bog communities must be acidic by definition. Wetlands are acidic as are most waterlogged soils. However many freshwater aquatic systems are more productive in neutral to alkaline conditions. And the natural fire cycle- now suppressed-once created huge swings in pH and in fact was a key element in the long term pH range of an ecosystem.
    I was trying to comment in part on the value judgements associated with the pH chosen. As an example if we were trying to optimize salmonid populations a pH below 5 generally prevents the survival of anything but a few charr species. Anadromous Atlantic salmon seem to need a pH greater than 6.5 to stay healthy-putting their survival often in conflict with the bog communities needing acidic conditions to survive very. And freshwater productivity (yes lots of value judgement here) seems to be enhanced by neutral or slightly alkaline conditions.
    My intent was to avoid complex resource management issues from becoming a singular focus on the “right” pH – alkaline or acid. We have far too many other things to worry about rather than the theoretical potential of a few hundredths or tenths of a pH unit result change to a highly buffered marine environment. On that I think we can agree.

  100. Steve Garcia says:

    Willis -

    I would NEVER think of moving toward a 7.0 pH as being acidifying or “alkilinizing.” I can only think that the term “acidifying” was chosen in order to mislead people. More neutral is a less dangerous state, and acidifying can only be used to give the impression of a more dangerous state.

    An equivalent would be that reducing high blood pressure would be called “vacuumizing” the blood.

    They must really think very little of the intelligence level and gullibility of the average person on the planet. I mean, SOME of us paid attention in science class.

  101. Pat Moffitt says:

    Viv Evans,
    Agreed we are talking about the ability to osmoregulate that allows some fish to move back and forth between fresh and salt water environs. However there is one that is impacted by pH- the Atlantic Salmon that experiences high mortality on its initial voyage to the ocean at a pH much below 6.5. I’m not sure that I know of any other anadromous or catadromous species with this tight pH restriction. (And no this has nothing to do with CO2 driven acidification)

  102. Adapted from the Wiki-bloody-pedia:
    “The Messinian Salinity Crisis, refers to when the Mediterranean Sea went into a cycle of partly or nearly complete desiccation in the latter part of the Messinian age of the Miocene epoch, from 5.96 to 5.33 Ma. It ended with the so-called Zanclean flood, when the Atlantic reclaimed the basin. The water from the Mediterranean would have been redistributed in the world ocean, raising global sea level by as much as 10 meters. The Mediterranean basin also sequestered below its seabed a significant percentage of the salt from Earth’s oceans; this decreased the average salinity of the world ocean and raised its freezing point.”

    So, how did marine life outside the Mediterranean basin cope with these massive changes in salinity and presumably pH? Can’t seem to find much change myself.

  103. Alan Statham says:

    It’s a strange crusade you’re on, to try to make out that acidification cannot be a bad thing. And you’re trying to claim that ocean acidification is not a problem because fruits are acidic and not alkaline? And because humans eat things further below seven than above seven on the pH scale? This is magnificently unconvincing, and you clearly don’t even appreciate that the concept of “neutral” is simply an arbitrary point on an arbitrary scale.

  104. Dave Wendt says:

    Pat Moffitt says:
    December 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    “However there is one that is impacted by pH- the Atlantic Salmon that experiences high mortality on its initial voyage to the ocean at a pH much below 6.5.”

    Where exactly are they encountering pH values below 6.5 in the world’s oceans?

  105. Viv Evans says:

    @ Pat Moffitt, December 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm:

    No, I can’t think of any other species than the Atlantic salmon either.
    And yes – osmoregulation has nothing to do with CO2.
    I just got cross because, in ivory-tower fashion, that ‘John of the West’ seemed to imagine that there’s this fixed boundary between fresh water and sea water, which fish and other animals can only cross at pain of death.
    That’s what happens when people sit in front of their PCs, pontificating, but can’t get their wellies on and take a nice long trip up and down the local beaches, river mouths included, to see what is actually going on.

  106. Sensor operator says:

    There is a major problem in this analysis that is being overlooked and ignored. Yes, there are deviations from the short-term average that occur in these locations shown above. Consider them high frequency noise. Most items that interact in a system will occasionally experience deviations outside the normal. It is to be expected. Consider the “normal” distribution. Most of the time we expect to find the result in a particular range, but we can experience deviations outside of this normal, but these events are unusual and not long lasting.

    The problem is when the average is constantly lower, not just for a short period of time. If there is a large rainfall, the local sea-surface salininty may go down sharply (don’t want to fight which way the pH may go). But it will return to normal salinity. We don’t expect to see the oceans become fresh water.

    Consider the price of gasoline. Sure it can go up and down 10-15 cents (or more these days) on a regular basis. But it is the long term trend of gases at high prices that is hurting people in the economy, i.e. the prices beign $1-$2 or more expensive than gasoline was just 10 years ago. I’ll be glad to deal with the “strong swings” of 10-25 cents if the average was only $1.50 per gallon.

    Also, there is a large body of work being published trying to understand the impact of ocean acidification on phytoplankton. There is more information than I can reasonably point to but does come down to two simple points:
    1) Yes, some critters will suffer due to ocean acidification, but others may thrive.
    2) When you change the base of the food change (and phytoplankton are basically at the bottom), you will impact everything else in food chain.

    Sure, maybe pteropods will suffer and (in an extremem case) go extinct. But now, all of the other creatures that relied on this one “insignificant” specie, will suffer, such as North Pacific salmon and cod. Now what?

    The natural world modern humans adapted to has been fairly stable without major changes for the time humans have been on this planet. As big changes occur (increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans) , which we can measure and see are much higher than they have been before humans thrived, we too will need to adapt or go extinct. I agree with folks that mentioned the Earth was been fine at higher levels. Remember, the Earth did fine with no humans for many more years than humans have existed on this planet, and can continue to do so without us.

  107. son of mulder says:

    My cod and chips crave acid and I dutifully comply

  108. RayG says:

    @Sensor operator says: December 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm “…The natural world modern humans adapted to has been fairly stable without major changes for the time humans have been on this planet…” The last ice age is generally considered to have hit its maximum extent around 18,000 years ago. I suggest that the shift from extreme glaciation to today’s fairly benign conditions represents a “major change.” My point is that humans adapted to the onset of the last ice age, its maximum extent and its recession. We will continue to adapt and adjust.

  109. Pat Moffitt says:

    Dave Wendt says:
    “Where exactly are they (Atlantic salmon) encountering pH values below 6.5 in the world’s oceans?”
    No where. A pH below 6.5 in freshwater inhibits the osmoregulatory process of the young smolt. Once the smolt out migrate to the ocean they experience heavy mortalities as a result of the ability to adapt from fresh to salt water. Increased mortality is a result of increased bird predation as they try to ride the less saline surface waters, osmotic cataracts etc. The regrowth of the forests and the suppression of fire cycle are two of the reasons we are seeing recent lower pH in the FRESHWATER. (We are trapped into the acid rain narrative however – liming has been demonstrated to reverse this process- cheaply and effectively- but of course is attacked by environmentalists as not being natural. In fact some are now saying it is increased organic acids as the result of climate change. When scientists tried to say it was organic acids twenty five years ago AND the loss of the alkaline ash offset fire once produced – they were viciously attacked.

  110. Pat Moffitt says:

    VIv-
    Completely understand.

  111. Pat Moffitt says:

    Alan Statham says:
    “It’s a strange crusade you’re on, to try to make out that acidification cannot be a bad thing.”

    What I don’t think you understand is that these “theoretical problems” steal the resources needed to address the known problems of greater relevance and threat. Oyster have declined 99% due to over harvest, reef destruction and disease. Perhaps a couple of million a year went to related research. Decades of continuing devastation- no interest. However when the opportunity presents itself for blaming fossil fuels for some theoretical threat at some future date- funding goes from a drip to a flood. Go figure?
    Canada wildlife officials admitted in the 1980s that all the Atlantic salmon could have been saved for about $4.5MCdn/year by liming. Tens if not hundreds times that amount were spent on acid rain research- nothing on liming with the exception of some very recent pilot projects. So yes hyping something is bad.
    I have listened to the screams that all the coral reefs were going to die- each with a different reason- each demanding huge amount of resources- and none of them ever doing anything.
    Exactly what should make me consider these people care a damn about the resource.

  112. Willis Eschenbach says:

    JPeden says:
    December 28, 2011 at 11:11 am


    Both are corrosive of living tissue, but alkalinity has a stronger effect.

    I was taught that on an equal basis of acid to “alkali”, the latter “denatures” the final, “tertiary”, structure of proteins, which involves their individual chains [several chains comprising one protein, kind of twisted together] associating with each other via indirect bonding, while the acid does not do this, In other words, the acid does not break down proteins as easily.

    Thanks, JPeden. That’s an interesting observation, one I hadn’t heard.

    w.

  113. DesertYote says:

    Well as someone with 35 years experience with aquariums, both as an armature scientist and professionally, in hard water (Phoenix) and softwater (Portland) areas, I can say that it is far easier to maintain alkali water fishes in lower PH conditions then it is to keep acid water fishes in higher PH. Some fishes used to be near impossible (well before RO, anyways) to maintain in Phoenix (tap water PH of 8.2-8.5).

    The reason that one does not see marine fishes in fresh water is because of salinity. It has nothing to do with PH. The physiological changes that anadromus fishes employ as the transition between environments is an adaptive marvel.

    BTW, it is interesting to note that Phoenix hobbyists have developed strains of Discus (Symphysodon discus) which normally like a PH from 4-6, able to tolerate the alkali water of the area. This shows that even in the most extreme case of an very acid loving species, adaption is possible.

  114. Willis Eschenbach says:

    John says:
    December 28, 2011 at 11:24 am

    … There are three take aways from this article for me (Abstract pasted below). The first is that you have to do the science, period.

    Agreed.

    The second is that some corals can grow as well as survive at far lower pH than expected.

    Agreed

    The third is that there are some limits of pH below which some corals can’t grow. We are very far from those limits, but they do exist, probably well above 1,000 ppm of CO2 based on other published research.

    Agreed with caveat. The caveat is that the study covers an area that is mildly acidic because of the large sea bottom freshwater springs. This means that not only is the pH different. The alkalinity and the salinity and DIC (dissolved inorganic carbon) and the phosphorus and silicon contents are all different as well.

    This means that there are a host of stressors on the corals’ ability to create a reef, and it is unclear where pH fits among all of them.

    Thanks,

    w.

  115. Willis Eschenbach says:

    JJ says:
    December 28, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    December 28, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Gosh, you sure proved that “silly statement” was wrong, the idiotic claim that “life doesn’t mind acidity at all.” That was a slam dunk.
    Only problem is … you were the one who invented that silly statement out of your own imaginings, and you were the only one in the thread to make that silly statement. I said nothing of the sort.

    For F@#$ Sake Willis, you did too. Read your own post. Own your words.

    You do some good things here, but you are an argumentative SOB who will choose to die on the tiniest of hills rather than admit error.

    Grow up.

    You claimed that I had said that “life doesn’t mind acidity at all.” I NEVER SAID THAT. Your claim that I said that is false. Search the thread for that phrase. You will find that you are the first to say that. Not me. You.

    If you don’t like something I say, quote my words. Quote what I said, exactly as I wrote it, so we can know what you disagree with. But don’t make up your own quote and ascribe it to me.

    Regarding the admission of error, I am well known in the climate blogosphere specifically because I do admit my errors.

    I am also an argumentative SOB who won’t allow people to falsely attribute quotes to me.

    w.

  116. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Pat Moffitt says:
    December 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    … It was not my intent to say that acid systems were worse.The soils of most forest systems are acidic and in fact if they were alkaline it would totally restructure the biome. The bog communities must be acidic by definition. Wetlands are acidic as are most waterlogged soils. However many freshwater aquatic systems are more productive in neutral to alkaline conditions. And the natural fire cycle- now suppressed-once created huge swings in pH and in fact was a key element in the long term pH range of an ecosystem.

    I was trying to comment in part on the value judgements associated with the pH chosen. As an example if we were trying to optimize salmonid populations a pH below 5 generally prevents the survival of anything but a few charr species. Anadromous Atlantic salmon seem to need a pH greater than 6.5 to stay healthy-putting their survival often in conflict with the bog communities needing acidic conditions to survive very. And freshwater productivity (yes lots of value judgement here) seems to be enhanced by neutral or slightly alkaline conditions.

    My intent was to avoid complex resource management issues from becoming a singular focus on the “right” pH – alkaline or acid. We have far too many other things to worry about rather than the theoretical potential of a few hundredths or tenths of a pH unit result change to a highly buffered marine environment. On that I think we can agree.

    Pat, thanks for a nuanced discussion of some issues regarding pH in terrestrial and freshwater conditions. Much appreciated, particularly the last statement. Deciding on the “right” pH for the ocean strikes me as being about as futile as deciding the “right” temperature for the planet.

    We’re talking about a tenth and a half of a pH unit (0.15 units) being given out as the possible change by 2100. I, like you, think there are many much more important issues than this one.

    w.

  117. Pat Moffitt says:

    Sensor operator says:
    ‘As big changes occur (increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans) , which we can measure and see are much higher than they have been before humans thrived, we too will need to adapt or go extinct.”

    So anything higher and can be measured is how we define our major threats? If I were to make up a list of the top 100 environmental challenges we face – CO2 wouldn’t even make the list.
    You mention phytoplankton- I’m much more concerned with silica deficiency and its impacts on diatoms.
    For salmon- much more concerned about the loss of marine derived nutrients and large woody debris in the rearing areas and a subsidized overcapitalized fishing fleet that engages in a mixed-stock fishery.

    It seems that environmental problems selected as “important” have more to do with regulatory self interest and ideological narrative than anything else.

  118. timg56 says:

    Alan Statham,

    It appears we get a completely different message from Willis’ post. I read it and thought the point of his post was to

    a) show that natural variation in pH exceeds the changes predicted by climate models

    and

    b) use of the term acidification carries some “framing” baggage – i.e. it can give the impression that the ocean is becoming acidic.

    Reading many of the comments here, I also come away with the message that just as with the climate, there is far more science does not know about what goes on in our oceans than what they know.

    In the end, my conclusion is that the evidence we have for CO2 to be a “threat” to ocean life is not anywhere close to convincing in comparison to other, better defined threats.

  119. JJ says:

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    December 28, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    You claimed that I had said that “life doesn’t mind acidity at all.” I NEVER SAID THAT. Your claim that I said that is false. Search the thread for that phrase. You will find that you are the first to say that. Not me. You.

    For crying out loud, you obstinant fool. Read your own damn post. You said:

    “Overall, making the ocean slightly more neutral will likely be beneficial to life, which doesn’t like alkalinity but doesn’t mind acidity at all.”

    Emphasis mine, words entirely yours. And you echoed that general seniment more than once. My response to that, to which you mightily object, was:

    “Biochemistry is a very complex subject, and cannot be truthfully replaced with platitudes like “Life doesn’t like alkalinity, but doesn’t mind acidity at all.””

    To which you planted your flag on the mound and claimed that (quoting you again):

    “I said nothing of the sort.”

    Really, Willis?

    Grow up.

    [JJ, the use of quotation marks means you are quoting someone's exact words. I suggest you look into that. You claimed I had said something which I had not said. Yes, it was close to what I said, but quotation marks are not for close to, or almost, or kinda what I said.

    They are reserved for things I actually said. I never said what you claimed. I objected to that, and solely that—you were putting words in my mouth I never said.

    I won't tolerate that, JJ, no matter how close the words might be to what I actually said. I pick my words with care. You don't get to pretend I said something I didn't say.

    So read up on the usage of quotes, JJ. Because it's obvious that, as you clearly admit above, "JJ doesn't really know how to use quotation marks."

    What's that? You never said that JJ doesn't know how to use quotation marks?

    My point exactly ...

    All the best,

    w.]

  120. MikeN says:

    Ph can be negative as well. Some acids can go to -1.

  121. Ben D Hillicoss says:

    Willis, as a hard core Republican who picks up hitch-hickers and hopes one day to have you in my right hand seat, I look forward to your posts for their open, true, scientific nature…keep up the good work1

  122. ACCKKII says:

    The “prologue” except in some parts that were enriched through the comments made here, is a clear scientific article.

    As a matter of fact, the neutralization depends on CO2 and its resources.

    crosspatch says:
    December 28, 2011 at 12:47 am

    “The oceans had MUCH more dissolved CO2 over the majority of the history of Earth than they do now. Earth’s atmosphere had about 3500ppm of CO2 up until only about 55 million years ago. That dropped to about 650ppm in less than 1 million years due to a single species of plant.”

    3500ppm——->>650ppm

    That means oceans were more neutralized in the past, and now the water seems to be less neutralized. In rivers that the water is naturally “neutral”, acidification may take place following the article views. Alkaline environment of the oceans can be neutralized by certain amount of CO2 ppm, that seems it has never happened at all and at least I have no idea about that.

    With reference to the articles about the sources of CO2 “SOLAR ACTIVITIES and CO2 released by oceans/lands, it seems there can be an impact on neutralization as well as CO2 in the atmosphere. In other words, the CO2 would not remain as a permanent resident in water surfaces. It works in a cyclic system.

    If we are saying man-made CO2 is less %10 of total CO2 sources, and CO2 increase in the atmosphere is more likely because of solar activities and releasing CO2 from lands and oceans, then there had been at first an increasing alkaline in water and in return, with the released CO2, the neutralization has been possible.

    Here is one point; releasing/returning the CO2 would never be equal in one place and concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would directly affect the so called neutralization.
    The shadow of CO2 in the atmosphere can be seen in “neutralization” of water surfaces.

    Happy new year.

  123. Dave Wendt says:

    Pat Moffitt says:
    December 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm
    Dave Wendt says:
    “Where exactly are they (Atlantic salmon) encountering pH values below 6.5 in the world’s oceans?”

    Sorry about that one. I was working up from the bottom of the comments and hadn’t seen your previous comments for the context of your statement. After catching up I must agree with Willis that your contributions have been both informative and valuable.

  124. jorgekafkazar says:

    Alan Statham says: “…This is magnificently unconvincing, and you clearly don’t even appreciate that the concept of “neutral” is simply an arbitrary point on an arbitrary scale.”

    It appears that your unconvincedness may be the result of your ignorance, Alan. Definition: A solution is said to be acid-base neutral if its hydrogen ion concentration is equal to its hydroxyl ion concentration.

    [H+] = [OH-] There’s nothing in the least arbitrary about that. Before you weigh in here with your opinions, you might want to be better informed. Here’s a place to start:

    http://www.acidbase.org/index.php?show=sb&action=explode&id=12&sid=14

  125. Pat Moffitt says:

    Dave Wendt,
    Not a problem- I took no offense from your question.

  126. Pat Moffitt says:

    jorgekafkazar says
    Definition: A solution is said to be acid-base neutral if its hydrogen ion concentration is equal to its hydroxyl ion concentration
    Yes- but that is not always at a pH of 7.0 (i’m not commenting on the rest of Jorge’s statement)

  127. jorgekafkazar says:

    Not sure if this applies here, but “which” ≠ “that:”

    “Why Using WHICH and THAT Correctly is Important for Scientists:”

    http://home.earthlink.net/~llica/wchmport.htm

    I hope this is helpful.

  128. Could you possibly send this to Mark Lynas? He seems to believe he understands this but clearly can’t as he didn’t refer to anything here and believes quite the opposite. My research tells me he is working for a political end so actual scientific data just gets in his way.

  129. Marine_Shale says:

    It seems to me that, from the point of view of a proponent of AGW , these dire projections of ocean “acidification” pose a bit of a conundrum.
    If the oceans were warming, as we are told they are, then the oceans would be outgassing vast quantities of CO2, not absorbing it (some suggestions are about 600 gigatons outgassed per 1 degree celcius rise). If the oceans are absorbing “dangerous” quantities of CO2 they must be cooling… so where is the warming that is supposed to be in the oceanic “pipeline”.
    The problem of course is that even if temperatures remain fairly static or fall a bit, the “Climate Disruption” crew now have a new dire threat to mobilise behind. “The world is cooling and the oceans are dying!!!”

  130. Anna Lemma says:

    Richard Lewis says: …”If not narrowly defined, “neutralization” suggests movement to a state of NO hydrogen ions, which is objectively incorrect.”

    Codswallop. Water, which is what Willis is talking about, ALWAYS has hydrogen ions in it .

    You know, because it’s called H2O, as in H+ and OH- ions.

    derrrr….

  131. Peter B says:

    Topologically speaking, the lumen of the intestines, and hence the stomach contents are exterior to the body and, as was mentioned, we depend on an intact mucus layer to protect the stomach wall from the acid it secretes. Furthermore, the stomach contents are neutralized by the alkaline pancreatic juices, such that there is a pH gradient through the intestines from acidic near the pylorus to around 8 farther down the line.
    When the body’s internal fluids become acidic, we are in deep trouble. Our bodies work very hard to keep the blood at ph 7.4 ± .05

  132. James of the West says:

    There are several species of animals that can live in the ocean and freshwater its true. Salmon and Barramundi for example and I’m sure there are several others but the point remains that alkalinity in and of itself is not an issue for species evolved to live in that environment.

    I agree with the premise of the article that the changes seen to date are not catastrophic and the terminology of acidification vs neutralisation but the preamble tries to imply that acid is better than basic for life to thrive when in actual fact different organisms evolve to thrive in different environments. The preamble takes away credibility from an otherwise good article.

  133. vigilantfish says:

    Willis and various commenters, thanks for an excellent post and discussion. I had thought I had a good understanding of alkalinity vs acidity, but have learned a great deal from this thread, especially about the general preference (or at least tolerance) by most life forms for acidity over alkalinity.

  134. Evan Thomas says:

    From down under. I suspect ocean fish do not enter river systems because that is not where their favourite tucker hangs out. The barramundi is caught in both salt and fresh water habitats in northern Oz. Great eating too. I suggest one one of you fishos garner an appropriate research grant and visit our Kimberley or Northern Territory or N.Qld. Skip the wet season though, it’s a bit trying. Happy New Year from still not warm Sydney.

  135. Jon Tuck says:

    Sorry, but I think this post misses the point in many ways and is a continuation of lot of poor arguments from the sceptic side in this area. The pH of the sea matters because it massively influences how easy it is for molluscs, corals an other shell-forming animals to build their calcium carbonate shells. While it may be true that these shells don’t start seriously dissolving until conditions get much more acidic than any forecast says they will, lower pH’s place a stress on the organisms and slow the average rate of growth. Short-term pH fluctuations as described in the post are tolerable, but a lowering of the long term average pH gives a headwind to many organisms which they will struggle to adapt too because it’s hard to evolve your way around thermodynamics. Sure, the sea may have been more acidic in the geological past, but that doesn’t mean a change back to that state won’t have significant ecological effects.

  136. John T says:

    Acidification, alkinization, neutralization… none seem accurate to me. You’re either increasing or decreasing pH, which is a measure of the concentration of hydronium ions in water. Acid and alkaline mean no more than hot and cold with a standard “room temp” thrown in to mean neutral. In either case you need an actual temperature or pH as a reference -though neutral and room temp seem to serve that purpose for many cases. Of course that’s the problem here, when the standard “neutral” is implied by the language, but is not accurate.

  137. Willis Eschenbach says:

    John T says:
    December 29, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Acidification, alkinization, neutralization… none seem accurate to me. You’re either increasing or decreasing pH, which is a measure of the concentration of hydronium ions in water. Acid and alkaline mean no more than hot and cold with a standard “room temp” thrown in to mean neutral. In either case you need an actual temperature or pH as a reference -though neutral and room temp seem to serve that purpose for many cases. Of course that’s the problem here, when the standard “neutral” is implied by the language, but is not accurate.

    Again I recommend that you look at the language of titration. The pH of 7 is called “neutral” for a reason. It is the pH of pure water. So it is quite different from the hot – room temperature – cold that you give as a metaphor. Room temperature is arbitrary. Pure water is neutral, and is the standard by which we name certain things as either acidic or basic (alkaline).

    The problem for AGW supporters is that the word “neutralizing” has no alarmist value. If I say “CO2 is acidifying the ocean” the obvious conclusions are a) acid = bad, and b) soon the ocean will be acid. “Soon the ocean will be neutral” just doesn’t have the same ring.

    But if I make the more accurate statement, that CO2 is slightly neutralizing the ocean, then we can look at and discuss it objectively, without the hype and the baggage that the term “acidification” invariably brings with it.

    w.

  138. Sten Kaijsser says:

    Thank you Willis, as always your posts are interesting and imformative. The topic concerning pH of the ocean is also important, but as somebody pointed out, the main difference between the oceans and fresh water is not so much a difference of pH as of salinity. When it comes to microbic life the dominant force is supposed to be the osmotic pressure – which of course mainly depends on the salinity, but it does not depend very much on what salt.

    Maybe you could also write a post concerning this issue, hich is probably less concerned with climate issues, but might be more relevant for life in the oceans.

  139. DesertYote says:

    Evan Thomas
    December 28, 2011 at 11:07 pm
    ####

    Barramundi, yum! I’ve kept these in aquariums before (they come in as contaminants in shipment of other species from time to time as shy little 10 cm fry). I had one get to over 50 cm in brackish conditions. The tank I had him (protoandrous hermaphrodites) in sprung a bad leak. I set up a tiny 300 liter tank temporarily, but because of the loading, had multiple pump failures several days latter. By the time I got back from the shop with replacements, he was mostly dead. So I eat him. He was delicious.

    One of my Egyptian friends talks about the Nile Perch (Lates niloticus) being a prized game fish and one of his favorite for eating. Its a very close relative.

  140. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Jon Tuck says:
    December 29, 2011 at 3:29 am (Edit)

    Sorry, but I think this post misses the point in many ways and is a continuation of lot of poor arguments from the sceptic side in this area. The pH of the sea matters because it massively influences how easy it is for molluscs, corals an other shell-forming animals to build their calcium carbonate shells.

    Thanks, Jon. Of course the pH of the sea matters, no one is disputing that. The point I am making is that the projected possible changes in pH are smaller (and infinitely slower) than the natural variations of the ocean pH. This means the shell-forming animals currently live and thrive in a pH well below that forecast for 2100.

    While it may be true that these shells don’t start seriously dissolving until conditions get much more acidic than any forecast says they will, lower pH’s place a stress on the organisms and slow the average rate of growth.

    Not necessarily. See my post, “The Reef Abides“.

    Short-term pH fluctuations as described in the post are tolerable, but a lowering of the long term average pH gives a headwind to many organisms which they will struggle to adapt too because it’s hard to evolve your way around thermodynamics.

    While “evolve your way around thermodynamics” makes a great sound bite, it doesn’t make sense. Life drives chemical reactions uphill all the time … where is your thermodynamics then?

    Sure, the sea may have been more acidic in the geological past, but that doesn’t mean a change back to that state won’t have significant ecological effects.

    You say that “doesn’t mean [it] won’t have” significant effects? I suppose one could get more vague than that, but it would be difficult. Sure, anything’s possible, but your fears about unlikely outcomes are not supported by the science. The oceanic life is hugely adaptable. Members of the same families of creatures live all over the ocean. Not only that, but species and assemblages of species are replacing each other constantly as the oceanic conditions change. The change in pH from Hawaii to Alaska is about the same pH change that is possible (but by no means certain) by 2100. And within that, the pH, and every other oceanic factor, is always varying.

    The ocean is not some fixed thing. It changes constantly. The only creatures that have survived are those that can react and respond to those changing conditions.

    Finally, much of the important stuff in the ocean, the small stuff that everything else depends on (and eats), have short lifespans. The advantage of that is evolution, evolution, evolution. In addition, many of them have thousands and some even tens of thousands of offspring. Talk about evolutionary advantage, having tens of thousands of offspring every generation is huge.

    So no, Jon, I’m not concerned. You are free to think the oceanic life will not adapt and evolve and survive such a small change in pH just fine, as it has done for millions of years. I think it will do just fine.

    w.

  141. prjindigo says:

    HELLO? SCIENCE?
    Pure water is NOT pH 7.0.

  142. Nick Stokes says:

    Willis Eschenbach says: December 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    “Again I recommend that you look at the language of titration. The pH of 7 is called “neutral” for a reason. It is the pH of pure water.”

    But the sea is not pure water, which is of no more relevance that, say, pure H2SO4. What counts is the pKa of the buffer system that surrounds you. That is the central point of any “titration”. And for the sea, it is greater than 7.

  143. Willis Eschenbach says:

    prjindigo says:
    December 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    HELLO? SCIENCE?
    Pure water is NOT pH 7.0.

    HELLO? SCIENCE? HOW ABOUT A CITATION FOR THAT CLAIM?

    I’m a huge fan of the scientific method, and I’m always willing to learn. My understanding has always been that pH of 7 was that of pure water.

    If I’m wrong, hey, I’m willing to learn. But SHOUTING AT ME WITH NO CITATIONS is no way to go through life, my friend.

    w.

  144. Keith Sketchley says:

    “James of the West” at best overstates in saying “That is why all of the ocean animals dont swim into neutral river systems…”. “Animals” is a vague term, but some sharks swim into rivers and huge numbers of salmon and some types of trout do do (they may spend a few weeks near the mouth of the river to adapt but they do adapt and quickly) – that’s their life, they’ve been doing it for millenia.

    “Purple Toad” points to salinity not pH as the concern of creatures who live in water, but does not mention that many fish do move from fresh to salt to fresh water during their life.

    That’s the life of salmon and the type of trout called steelhead.
    There are salmon who stay in lakes – called “Kokanee”, and of course steelhead are an exception in the trout family, which suggests that over a long time both those species adapted.

  145. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Nick Stokes says:
    December 29, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says: December 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    “Again I recommend that you look at the language of titration. The pH of 7 is called “neutral” for a reason. It is the pH of pure water.”

    But the sea is not pure water, which is of no more relevance that, say, pure H2SO4. What counts is the pKa of the buffer system that surrounds you. That is the central point of any “titration”. And for the sea, it is greater than 7.

    Thanks, Nick. I was talking about the language, and about what is called “neutral” pH in general, not about pH in any specific complex solution.

    In terms of the ocean, as you imply, the carbon chemistry there is quite complex. It is far from enough to specify simply the pH. Alkalinity, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), salinity, and aragonite saturation levels all play a part, as do other elements such as silicon and potassium.

    Finally, you can’t just use what happens in the test tube to understand the chemical processes in the ocean. The oceanic life is not driven by chemistry. Quite the contrary.

    The oceanic chemistry is driven by life.

    All the best,

    w.

  146. Smokey says:

    Keith Sketchley,

    It makes one wonder if folks understand what an estuary or a lagoon is. They are bodies of partially salt water. Sometimes they are nearly as salty as the ocean, and sometimes they’re almost fresh water. Plenty of fish and shellfish live in them, and the salinity – which changes with the tide [and thus changes the pH] – causes no problems.

  147. Willis Eschenbach says:

    I was thinking last night that there are freshwater mussels and snails and such. They are making their shells out of calcium carbonate just like their oceanic brethren. Now, freshwater streams are actually slightly acidic (pH 5-7). If a decline in oceanic pH from 8.15 to 8 by the year 2100 is supposed to be so dangerous from dissolving shells, then how do freshwater mussel shells not dissolve in conditions that are actually acidic?

    Obviously, more than pH is involved in the deal … always more to learn. Life is way too short. As is the day. Back to work.

    w.

  148. JJ says:

    Willis,

    What an incredibly immature response. As I have said several times on this site, including a couple of times on this thread, you make valuable contributions here. Those contributions are undermined by your tendency to go over the top, and to be a belligerent ass when such is pointed out to you. And you have a real problem with admitting it when you are wrong. You will twist and turn and hang your hat on gramar and punctuation flames, rather than admit the plainly obvious. In doing this, you ridicule your own work. It cannot be trusted, as if it is wrong you cannot be trusted to acknowledge that.

    This,incidenlty, is precisely the problem with the RealClimate Team. Spin and spin, but never acknowledge error, however obvious. You place youself in poor company.

    You opened your salvo on me with “I said no such thing” and then proceeded to impugn me for it. I guess “Yes, it was close to what I said, …” followed by a bunch of grammar flames and snarky diversions is as close to an apology as you are capable, huh?

    Back to the substance of the matter, you did in fact say that life does not like alkalinity, but it doesnt mind acidity at all. And that assinine statement remains false, for all of the reasons illuminated above that you chose to ignore, in deference to childish argumentativeness.

    Grow up.

    [JJ, you continue to miss the point. I will not allow you to put a false quotation into my mouth. If you object to something I said, quote it and we can discuss it. If I made a mistake, quote my exact words that you think are mistaken so that we'll be in no mystery about exactly what you are talking about.

    But do not make up your own quotation and pretend that quotation is mine. I won't stand for it. That's what quotation marks mean.

    I see that you don't like it that I busted you for making up a quotation. I can only assume that is because you want to be free to make up any kind of words and pretend that I said them. Sorry ...

    Look, JJ, you are the one who tried to pass off a false quotation as being mine. Now you want me to say I'm wrong? Sorry, my friend. I'm happy to say I'm wrong, but not when you are the one putting a fake quote into my mouth. That's on you, not me.

    w.]

  149. Smokey says:

    JJ says:

    Willis, “you have a real problem with admitting it when you are wrong.”

    Incorrect, JJ. On the very rare occasions that Willis has made a mistake, he owns up to it and corrects it. You must be confusing him with Nick Stokes, or Phil., or Alan Statham, or Joel Shore. Or JJ.

  150. Septic Matthew says:

    Willis, nicely done, again.

    Thanks

  151. Michael says:

    Hi Willis! This is a very brilliant post about real science. Nice observations. You said you love scientific studies, well, this site about ph scales may catch your interest: http://phscale.net/

    Get back to me and tell me what you think.

  152. E.M.Smith says:

    The floor of the ocean is covered with mega-tons of metal. In any attempt to acidify the ocean (meaning to actually get a pH smaller than 7) that metal will immediately start reacting and neutralize any acid.

    The floor of the ocean has a constant rain of carbonate “gut rocks” from fish (dumping that excess alkalinity in which they live. Alkalinity properly meaning alkaline elements like the Calcium in those gut rocks). It also has a constant rain of carbonate shells from microscopic sea life and silicate shells as well. ALL of that acting to neutralize any attempt to become acidic.

    It is simply not possible to make the ocean acidic with carbon fuels.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manganese_nodule

    Nodules lie on the seabed sediment, often partly or completely buried. They vary greatly in abundance, in some cases touching one another and covering more than 70% of the sea floor. The total amount of polymetallic nodules on the sea floor was estimated at 500 billion tons by Alan A. Archer of the London Geological Museum in 1981. They can occur at any depth, even in lakes, but the highest concentrations have been found on vast abyssal plains in the deep ocean between 4,000 and 6,000 m (13,000 and 20,000 ft).

    So get back to me in 1/2 TRILLION TONS or so… BTW, the extant carbonate deposits on the ocean bottom make that number look like a joke…

    There can be NO acidification of the ocean until all that alkaline and basic material is reacted. That simply is not going to happen.

  153. ACCKKII says:

    E.M.Smith says:
    December 29, 2011 at 8:30 pm
    “There can be NO acidification of the ocean until all that alkaline and basic material is reacted. That simply is not going to happen.”

    ACCKKII says:
    December 28, 2011 at 5:23 pm
    “Alkaline environment of the oceans can be neutralized by certain amount of CO2 ppm, that seems it has never happened at all and at least I have no idea about that.”

    solar activities——->>CO2 release——->>Neutralization before rainfall——>>(A)
    |—–>>CO2 release continuation…
    (A)—>CO2 in the atmosphere—–>>CO2+rainfall back to the oceans(some parts depending on CO2 concentration).

  154. ACCKKII says:

    In the rivers waters, alkalinity is different from the the seas and oceans. Imagine there is a river with a naturally neutral water that is joining to a sea and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is high enough, the rain is coming a perfect “neutralization” in a neutral water takes place, the river water pH would fall below 7. then the name isn’t neutralization.
    This would happen of course in just rivers with sweet waters, I wanted to say the neutralization is generally a right name but it cannot be “absolute”.

  155. JPeden says:

    @Willis says:

    “In other words, the acid does not break down proteins as easily.”

    Thanks, JPeden. That’s an interesting observation, one I hadn’t heard.

    Just fyi, an alkali or lye burn to the cornea or esophagus is a much more significant and fearsome problem as compared to an acid burn. With the exposure to a strong base like Drano, the esophagus can become perforated, producing a life threatening “mediastinitis” [spread of inflammatory damage + infection around the esophagus, in the chest directly behind the heart] or eventually scarred to the point of obstruction, and it is difficult to bypass or replace. The lye penetrates tissues much better than a comparable acid, the latter which can therefore also be more easily diluted out. The horror scenario occurs when a child swallows a strong base.

  156. Rob Crawford says:

    “First, day-to-night variations in pH are from the CO2 that is produced by the reef life as a whole.”

    Also the CO2 that is consumed by the photosynthetic process.

    Years ago I had a heavily planted aquarium that I fed with CO2. The rate of adding CO2 to the tank was constant, but the pH varied according to the time of day. When the lights were on, the plants consumed the CO2; lights off, the CO2 built up.

  157. Rob Crawford says:

    “The pH of the sea matters because it massively influences how easy it is for molluscs, corals an other shell-forming animals to build their calcium carbonate shells.”

    Look into “kalkwasser reactors” for reef aquariums. People intentionally inject CO2 into their reef aquariums, using it to dissolve calcium carbonate so there’s a higher amount in the tank water for the corals and molluscs to acquire.

    Now, look at the oceans. There are massive deposits of calcium carbonate on the ocean floors and on beaches. Adding CO2 to the water will dissolve some of that, putting more into solution for the corals and molluscs.

    Given the experience of reef keepers, I suspect the experiments that show higher CO2 is bad for coral have been done without additional calcium carbonate in the system.

    The “in-the-wild” examples I’ve seen have been clearly picked for their propaganda values, not their representative natures. For example, National Geographic had a photo essay showing a reef suffering “ocean acidification” — the seabed immediately around a volcanic vent was sterile, while just a few miles away there was a beautiful reef. Well, DUH! The CO2 levels from that vent were hundreds (thousands?) times more concentrated than anything we could pull off across the entire globe! They also didn’t bother to check if the nearby reef was being fertilized by all that CO2 — once the concentration drops to sane levels, I’m sure the phytoplankton was in heaven.

  158. Pat Moffitt says:

    Rob Crawford,
    I would anticipate that at least for a shallow water vent that the paucity of visible life had more to due with sulfides and temperature than CO2. Not much growing in close proximity to an actively outgassing volcanic vent on land either.

  159. Pat Moffitt says:

    Rob Crawford says:
    “Now, look at the oceans. There are massive deposits of calcium carbonate on the ocean floors and on beaches. Adding CO2 to the water will dissolve some of that, putting more into solution for the corals and mollusks.’
    Perhaps even more important are the massive and finely grained marl (CaCo3/organic) mud flats that are often associated with coral reefs. (Bone fish anyone?) In fact for many of them I’m sure as groundwater percolates up through these sediments (or even tidal flux and bioturbation) -especially in the higher organic marls- we would see substantial fluxes from the carbonate dissolution coupled to sulfate reduction and oxidation of H2S. . Don’t know if I’ve ever seen any work quantifying the flux but can’t believe that CaCO3 could ever be limiting to a reef in close proximity to a marl flat.

    When these marl flats turn in to non calcareous organic muds- I’ll start worrying about atmospheric CO2.

  160. Pat Moffitt says:

    prjindigo says:
    December 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm
    HELLO? SCIENCE?
    Pure water is NOT pH 7.0.

    It is at 25C.

  161. Gareth says:

    Willis says “Acidity is no problem for life compared to alkalinity”
    As a health professional for many years I can say categorically that this statement is completely wrong. There are many examples that have already been quoted, but it is the site of the ph that matters, not the ph in itself.
    Apologies Willis in advance if I have the incorrect font for your statement.

  162. JJ says:

    Willis,

    “JJ, you continue to miss the point. I will not allow you to put a false quotation into my mouth.”

    [SNIP— I also will not allow you to keep missing the point, in more and more memorable ways. Go away, all you have shown to date that you are unwilling to admit you tried to pass off a false quote as something I had said.

    I am through with it. If you have science to talk, fine. Otherwise, I'll just continue to snip the non-scientific, ugly, spite-filled parts of your ramblings.

    w.]

  163. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Gareth says:
    December 31, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Willis says

    “Acidity is no problem for life compared to alkalinity”

    As a health professional for many years I can say categorically that this statement is completely wrong. There are many examples that have already been quoted, but it is the site of the ph that matters, not the ph in itself.
    Apologies Willis in advance if I have the incorrect font for your statement.

    First, Gareth, the font works fine. I use the “blockquote” tags instead for quoted matter, and your way works fine as well.

    Next, I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. The pH of the foods we eat ranges from a few foods that are slightly above neutral (pH of 8) through slightly acid and on down to quite acid. (pH of 2). This avoidance by living things of basic substances is an indication of what I meant. We drink lemon juice, with a pH 5 units below neutral. But if we were to drink a liquid with a pH 5 units above neutral, we might never drink again, it would burn our throats so badly.

    That difference is what I was referring to in what you quoted. I hope this helps clear it up.

    w.

  164. SteveE says:

    Mariwarcwm says:
    December 28, 2011 at 4:41 am
    Crosspatch – I am very interested in your idea that species have died because of the drop in CO2 from 3500ppm to the present level. No one seems to ask why dinosaurs, for example were so very large, and the vegetation on which they lived equally large. All that lovely CO2 perhaps? Then, about 55 million years ago when CO2 dropped below 3500ppm, the dinosaurs and their vast vegetation died out and everything got a lot smaller. What was the plant that caused a sharp drop during the next million years?

    —-

    The dinosaurs died out 10 million years earlier I’m afraid.

  165. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    Willis, I hope you’re still keeping track of this thread. I’ve been away from the site, now playing catch-up.

    Willis Eschenbach said on December 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm:

    prjindigo says:
    December 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    HELLO? SCIENCE?
    Pure water is NOT pH 7.0.

    HELLO? SCIENCE? HOW ABOUT A CITATION FOR THAT CLAIM?

    I’m a huge fan of the scientific method, and I’m always willing to learn. My understanding has always been that pH of 7 was that of pure water.

    If I’m wrong, hey, I’m willing to learn. But SHOUTING AT ME WITH NO CITATIONS is no way to go through life, my friend.

    w.

    prjindigo is probably referring to “common” pure water. Freshly distilled in a clean system and bottled in glass with no atmospheric exposure, absolutely pure water is 7.0 pH. But as soon as the atmosphere touches it, the water soaks up carbon dioxide and you get a weak carbonic acid solution. Here’s a Googled mention, they also use that yellow background pH chart you used, attributing Environment Canada:
    http://dnr.wi.gov/air/aq/global/acidrain.htm

    Rain uncontaminated by any pollutants has a pH of 5.0 to 6.0. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources investigators consider rain with pH less than 5.0 to be “acid rain.”

    Thus “pure water”, as with “pure rain”, is slightly acidic. Even in a lab, you’re not going to see a 7.0 pH reading with water universally normally accepted as lab-grade pure.

  166. LazyTeenager says:

    For those hard-core scientists that still want to call adding a small amount of acid to a basic solution “acidifying” the basic solution, and who claim that is the only correct “scientific terminology”
    ——————
    Willis I don’t care what you call it because I can figure what you mean. My argument is with people who claim that the term acidify is wrong or a lie or stupid. And then make up some BS story around this wrong assertion.

    My BS story is that the journalists who report on these things typically have some kind of science background, often in fields where the acidify terminology is the convention. When writing their articles they are not going to use terms like pH ,which are more neutral, because they are considered technical.

    Furthermore they are not going to sidetrack their article by running a science lesson on pH.

    And they are not going to make a boring non-dramatic story.

    These things alone are sufficient to explain why the acidify terminology is in use in magazine articles.

    If any one feels the need they can verify what I say about acidify being a terminology convention by simply surveying the scientific literature as far back as you want to go. If it precedes the interest in climate science and ocean CO2, that would prove it has nothing to do with some climate science plot.

  167. LazyTeenager says:

    Steve Keohane says:
    December 28, 2011 at 6:29 am
    Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought an excess of H ions was acidic, an excess of OH ions alkaline, and you have one or the other. An alkaline solution doesn’t become acidified until there are no OH ions, when pH<=7.0.
    —————–
    Nup. At pH 7 the OH and H ions are equal concentrations. Above pH 7 there are more OH and less H and vice versa. There are never none. [H+][OH-] = 10^-14 defines the relationship. In other words the concentrations multiplied together equals 0.00000000000001

  168. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    From LazyTeenager on January 5, 2012 at 11:03 pm:

    Willis I don’t care what you call it because I can figure what you mean. My argument is with people who claim that the term acidify is wrong or a lie or stupid. And then make up some BS story around this wrong assertion.

    Ref: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/acidification

    a·cid·i·fy
    tr. & intr.v. a·cid·i·fied, a·cid·i·fy·ing, a·cid·i·fies
    To make or become acid.
    —–
    a·cidi·fia·ble adj.
    a·cidi·fi·cation n.
    a·cidi·fier n.

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

    It’s not acid until it’s less than 7.0 pH. It’s not acidification unless the process goes below 7.0 pH.

    Science terminology, ref: http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/acidification

    acidification [ə‚sid·ə·fə′kā·shən]
    (chemistry)
    Addition of an acid to a solution until the pH falls below 7.

    McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

    It’s not acidification unless you’re making an acid, which as defined is lower than 7.0 pH.

    That’s the scientific terminology, which Willis has used correctly. The oceans are not acidifying if they’re not dropping below 7.0 pH. Period, end of story. Casual incorrect usage of the terminology, even by scientists, doesn’t make Willis wrong and you right.

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